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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Eagles


Officially it's the Philadelphia Eagles against the Green Bay Packers this Monday night at Lambeau Field.

But this upcoming game offers a little something more: a civil war between head coaches Andy Reid and Mike Sherman.

Like so many times this season, Sherman is going up against a former colleague, with Reid having been a Packers assistant coach from 1992-98.

Not only are these two men close friends, they're also two of the best game-plan coaches in football.

And that should provide an extra spark to what is already a thrilling match up.

The Eagles are 5-3. The Packers are 4-4. And, believe me, both teams thought they'd have better records at this point of the season.

Philadelphia wants to win this game badly to keep pace with the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers on the other hand, need this game just as much to keep close to the Minnesota Vikings and every other NFC team in the playoff race.

But these teams have more in common than just coaches and disappointing records. Just like the Packers, the Eagles have one of the best running games in the NFL.

Brian Westbrook is doubtful for the game with an injured ankle, but that still leaves the two-headed monster of Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley.

The Eagles offensive line is a big unit that can pound in the running game, but they're a little vulnerable to the pass rush.

With the addition of Grady Jackson to the defensive line -- can you imagine that big guy lining up next to Gilbert Brown? -- I think the Packers should be able to stop the run up the middle. But the Eagles could be just as effective running around the ends.

Like the Green Bay offense, the Eagles look to control the ball. Quarterback Donovan McNabb spreads it around the field with short passes and a lot of screens.

They don't take a lot of deep shots, and so the Packers want to keep McNabb in the pocket and force him to make plays with his arm.

I know McNabb has fallen under a lot of criticism this year, but don't fall into a trap thinking that he's not a dangerous quarterback.

In general, I think quarterbacks get too much of the praise when their team wins and too much of the blame when their team loses. McNabb has been banged up and got off to a slow start, but just like his team, he's better than the 5-4 record.

If he does have a weakness it's that he can be blitzed effectively from his weak side. McNabb has a tendency not to look over the entire field, and that leaves him vulnerable. I expect that the Packers will try to exploit that, and whether it's this week or next week, the addition of Jackson should hopefully help free up Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila from some of the double-teams that he's seen all season.

The Packers will be aggressive, but they do have to keep an eye out for those screens, or else those blitzes will backfire.

In the passing game, I expect the Packers to play a lot of man coverage. They need to watch Freddie Mitchell, who likes to roam free on play-action passes.

If the Packers can rattle McNabb, they can force some turnovers -- either interceptions or fumbles in the pocket. And the key to this game can be found in one word: takeaways.

The Packers had none against the Vikings and they have to force some turnovers this week.

Offensively the Packers have to stick with what's working, and that's a steady diet of the offensive line and running back Ahman Green.

The Eagles are one of the toughest teams to pass-block against because they'll blitz as many as seven or eight players at any given moment.

The O-line has been the strength of the Packers so far this season and they have to be just as good Monday.

Rookie defensive end Jerome McDougle could make his debut against the Packers after missing the first half of the season due to injury. He's only a young pup, but I'm sure he'll be very excited to get in there and make plays.

Brian Dawkins is arguably the best safety in the league, but he's out this week with a foot injury. Clinton Hart is being asked to step up, but that's a big loss for Philly.

Regardless, I expect the Packers to try and keep the ball on the ground and mix in the pass. The best formation for that should be that three-tight end set with Bubba Franks, Wesley Walls and David Martin, which has worked very well in recent weeks.

From that power formation, the Packers should be able to create some mismatches against the Eagles.

That three-tight end set is pretty new this year and is one scheme that linebacker Nate Wayne won't be able to tell the Eagles much about.

But after three seasons in Green Bay, you better believe Wayne took his time to describe the ins and outs of the Packers defense, including coverage patterns and signals.

On the other hand, the Packers were able to go to former Eagles Antonio Freeman and Al Harris to pick up some Philadelphia secrets.

This insider info is one of the neat things about free agency. And when it comes right down to it, good teams can execute plays even if the opposition knows what's coming.

Considering the Eagles injuries, I expect the Packers should be able to exhaust them on a chilly night at Lambeau Field.

Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent usually make up one of the best corner tandems in the game, but Taylor is doubtful with a foot injury. Lito Sheppard will step up in his place, and he can be dangerous.

But the Packers have to be feeling pretty good about their passing game.

Javon Walker is coming off his biggest game as a Packer, and I think because of his size he has more potential on grass than on artificial turf.

Robert Ferguson might start and will get his chances to make plays too, but Walker is starting to show the fans why the Packers took him in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Quickly his hands are starting to become as good as his size and speed. And he's always been a selfless player willing to block downfield. He's got a great attitude and is very coachable, so I look for him to have a big second half of the season.

I also expect that Mr. Cold Weather Brett Favre will do just enough to make big plays when it counts.

On special teams, the Eagles have had to mix and match with personnel, but as a unit they're pretty scary.

The Packers should expect fake kicks or punts at any time, and in coverage they have to be ready to face their biggest challenge since Dante Hall and the Kansas City Chiefs.

You're going to watch two intense and hard-working special teams units out there Monday night, so a big play from at least one of the teams seems inevitable.

This is a landmark games for both the Eagles and Packers this season, and it's not out of the question that these teams could meet down the road in the playoffs.

But they need to get another quality win to prove to everyone that they have what it takes to make it to the post season.

After slow starts, the Eagles and Packers are starting to turn things around. But only one team can keep their momentum going.

Let's hope it's the Packers.

*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,*

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