Skip to main content

Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Eagles


The first time the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles met this season, the Eagles won the game 17-14 on a wet and sloppy night at Lambeau Field.

But the stakes were a whole lot different then than they will be Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. And about the only thing I expect to be similar this time around is that the game might once again come down to the final play.

The Eagles are the NFC's No. 1 seed and history will be on their side. But the Packers are the NFC's hottest team, and there's no reason to count them out.

Defensively, the Packers need to match the performance they had the first time around except for one detail: they can't fold in the final minutes.

The Eagles are led by Donovan McNabb who threw for 198 yards and ran for 26 more in the November meeting. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

McNabb goes through his progressions well and has come a long way in terms of his ability to read defenses. When he's healthy he has a strong arm and even stronger legs, and if the Packers want to shut him down they have to find a way to collapse the pocket.

Last weekend against Seattle there were times when the Packers looked to blitz but showed their intention too early. This time around they need to disguise their blitzes, waiting to move in until there are about 10 seconds left on the play clock so that McNabb doesn't have time to audible into a different play.

Then the Packers need to send their pressure up the middle. If they do that, defensive ends Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman can get wide and contain for easy sacks. The problem with bringing pressure from the outside is that if McNabb makes the rusher miss, he could find room to run.

In addition to blitzing McNabb, I also expect the Packers to mix up their coverages or run combination coverages to try and keep him off balance.

If McNabb gets in a rhythm, look out.

The injury to running back Brian Westbrook obviously hurts the Eagles' ground game, but Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter are solid backups and shouldn't be overlooked.

One of the ways the Eagles hurt teams is by brining their running backs into the passing game. They're one of the best screen teams in the NFL, and even if a defense stops a play once, the Eagles aren't afraid to go right back to it and catch the opposition napping.

One play that the Eagles like to run in the red zone is the Double-Screen, Wide-Delay, H-Option. What happens on that play is the Eagles run a screen to the left and to the right. Meanwhile, the tight end, Chad Lewis, blocks for a few counts and then releases over the middle.

Often times he's open, but if not, Staley sometimes slips open down the sideline.

Obviously the linebackers will be key to the Packers defending the middle of the field successfully.

On the offensive side of things, the Packers have to find a way to run the football this week.

Last time they faced the Eagles, Ahman Green had 192 yards rushing and the Packers had 241 yards on the ground as a team.

You can bet that the Eagles will be selling out to stop the run this time, but that's still the way the Packers have to look to attack.

Usually I say that Green needs to get 25-30 touches a game. But in a playoff situation like this, he needs to get 25-30 carries, with about five looks in the passing game on top of that.

It needs to be the Ahman Green Show in Philadelphia from start to finish. There's just no way the Eagles can tackle that guy consistently enough to stop him.

Of course the key to getting Green on a roll is the play of the offensive line, which has been the Packers' most consistent strength this season.

The O-line has a tough day ahead of them because the Eagles blitz like crazy, so there will be no time to relax.

The best way to stop the blitz is to pick up good chunks of yardage on first down and avoid penalties.

If the Packers can get into second-and-medium and second-and-short situations, they have a good chance of winning. But if they're constantly facing third-and-long, Brett Favre could spend a lot of the day on his back. And when Favre falls under consistent pressure, he sometimes tries to force passes to get something going.

That's just Favre's playmaking style, and often times it works. But in the playoffs the Packers need to do their best to control the clock. Obviously that means taking care of the football.

The last time they faced the Eagles the Packers had six fumbles in the game, so they have to consider themselves lucky that they only had three turnovers. This time even two turnovers could be too many.

The good news for the Packers is that Favre and his receivers seem to be gaining confidence as the year goes on, and so long as it doesn't rain, the thumb doesn't seem to be a problem. Green, meanwhile, hasn't fumbled since that Philly game, and his teammates have done a better job of protecting the football, too.

Still, you have to expect the Eagles to go for the ball on every play and try to strip it out.

The Eagles defensive line is smaller, but fast. But the Packers should still be able to create some holes and run to daylight.

When the Eagles aren't sending the house at Favre, I expect that they'll run some double teams on Donald Driver and Javon Walker to try and take away some of their big-play abilities.

If that happens, the keys to a successful passing game could be Bubba Franks and Wesley Walls, who have to utilize the open space in the middle of the field.

One thing's for sure, no matter who they go to or how they do it, the Packers offense needs to get on top of Philadelphia early. It's tough playing from behind on the road, but it's very tough in Philadelphia where the fans are rowdy and hostile.

If the Packers can jump out early, Eagles fans have been known to turn on their own team.

In terms of special teams, I think you'll see Josh Bidwell rebound from a shaky performance in tough conditions last week.

Ryan Longwell has been one of the best kickers in the league for years and Sunday he'll go up against one of the other top kickers in David Akers.

The Packers did a good job in their kickoff return containment last week and their kickoff return and punt return units really seem poised to break one. I've been hoping for it all season, and there really wouldn't be a better time for it than the playoffs.

Likewise, if the Packers have any fakes or trick plays that they've been keeping under the table, now is the time to bring them out.

So, having said all of that, you might be wondering who I expect to win.

Considering the talent of these two teams and the way they played over the second half of the year, it's pretty tough to pick a favorite.

But I like the way the Packers are playing right now. The Seattle game was awesome, but I still think that we haven't seen their best performance yet.

Hopefully we see it Sunday and the Packers win 24-17.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content