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Pass Protection At A Premium


Often when looking for some insight to match-ups of two of the top teams in the NFL, you will find a certain statistic that appears to fit the old "irresistible force vs. immovable object" comparison.

In looking ahead to this weekend's game between two of the NFC's four division-leaders, the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles, one such stat definitely jumps off the page.

Through 11 games, the Philadelphia defense has amassed 34 sacks, which ranks first in the NFC and is tied for second in the NFL, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers' 36.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Packers rank first by allowing a mere five sacks on the season and are riding a streak of 13 consecutive quarters since Brett Favre was last dropped for a loss in the third period at Washington October 31.

Something's got to give.

The word out of the Green Bay locker room this week has been that they have got to be prepared for the numerous blitz packages that Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson devises.

Packers' right guard Marco Rivera said that he and his teammates are getting ready for a variety of different looks that the Eagles will throw at them.

"It's a very extensive blitz package," he said. "You never know where they're going to come from - that's one of the Philadelphia strengths. They've always done that - they did that to us last year.

"It's going to be a challenge to keep them off Brett, but it starts in practice. We've got to go out there and practice hard and have the look teams give us a good look and hopefully that will carry over into Sunday."

Left guard Mike Wahle says that it will have to be a team effort to beat the blitz of the home team.

"When they bring pressure, what Philly does really well is disguise what they're doing, so we're going to have to be really aware - backs, receivers, and the offensive line of where exactly they're coming from and who's going to be the hot route," said Wahle. "If we put ourselves in a favorable position from that standpoint, we should be in good shape."

From that perspective, Rivera believes that it's been a product of the entire offense working together that has kept the team's sack totals so low.

"We've just practiced hard and gone out there and tried to get it done," the veteran lineman explained. "Every week it's a challenge, you've really got to credit all 11 guys for doing their job - the receivers getting open, quarterbacks throwing the ball, running backs and fullbacks picking up that linebacker when he comes and offensive linemen sustaining their blocks.

"So it's kind of a rhythm, it's all about timing and right now I think our timing is pretty good. Brett is getting rid of the ball and it's helping us out."

Part of that mentioned team effort was from the receiving corps, and Javon Walker knows that he is going to have to be extra alert for Favre making hot reads to beat the blitz this week.

"You have more hot reads when a team blitzes," he said. "You have to be alert on certain pass routes. If you see a blitz coming, you have to able to get out of your routes quicker, be able to adjust. That's stuff we're going to be working on in practice. We have adjustments for all of that, we'll just have to go out and execute them."

While right tackle Mark Tauscher and his fellow linemen have seen a lot of the Eagles' scheme in the past year with Sunday's contest marking the teams' third meeting since week 10 of the 2003 season, he knows Philly will have some new tricks up their sleeves.

"I'm sure they'll have some new stuff that we haven't even seen," said Tauscher. "I'm sure they're going to try to do some different things to slow us down not only in the passing game, but running the football too. So we're going to practice, get the reps in, and hopefully we'll be ready for everything that they've got to throw at us."

One of the keys to the Philadelphia pass rush is defensive end Jevon Kearse, whom they picked up via free agency last March from the Tennessee Titans. "The Freak" leads the Eagles with 7.5 sacks on the season.

Tauscher said that he envisions another test like the one he successfully faced Monday night against the St. Louis Rams' Leonard Little when he lines up against Kearse.

"I think they're similar players," Tauscher said. "Kearse just seems like he's reenergized since coming over to Philly. Playing on the road against a speed-rusher is a little bit of a disadvantage, but I'm going to do the same things that I do every week and I'm going to go out and play and see where I'm at."

Sunday will be a test for the entire pass-protecting unit for the Packers. How well they are able to keep Favre's uniform clean will play a large part in the team's ability to emerge from Lincoln Financial Field with a victory.

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