Pass Protection Paramount Against Philadelphia


The Packers offensive line made considerable strides this past week when it did not allow quarterback Brett Favre to be sacked, or even hit for that matter, even once in Detroit.

Anything approaching a similar effort will be a Herculean task this week at Philadelphia.

The Eagles come into Monday night's game tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 16, or an average of 5-plus per game. Led by second-year defensive end Trent Cole, who is tied for tops in the league with five sacks, the Eagles' ability to put pressure on the quarterback hasn't dropped off any with the loss of former All-Pro Jevon Kearse, who had 31/2 sacks in the first two games before being lost for the season with a knee injury.

Many of those sacks come from Philadelphia's well-executed blitz packages. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is known to bring pressure from anywhere at anytime, and it has resulted in seven different players recording sacks in the first three games.

"His whole philosophy is 11 defensive players versus the quarterback," said cornerback Al Harris, who played under Johnson before joining the Packers in 2003. "You can see it in his scheme."

Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski explained that when the Eagles blitz, Johnson often overloads one side of the formation. It might be the strong side (where the tight end lines up) or the weak side, and it's often disguised until just before, or at times right after, the snap.

"Third down is where he brings a lot of his stuff," Jagodzinski said.

The scheme requires the offense to be ready for anything, and to be able to adjust quickly. One missed assignment or missed read and the quarterback might get buried before he even finishes dropping back to pass.

"Basically communication and recognition is the big challenge this week," center Scott Wells said. "Being on the road again, being able to see those things and communicate those things with the crowd noise will be huge."

That's what the Packers were able to do so well last week, though the Lions didn't blitz nearly as often as the Eagles will.

During much of the Detroit game, the Packers used a seven-man protection, with the five linemen plus two tight ends, or one tight end and a running back. That only left three receivers out in the pattern at the snap, but if one of the extra blockers didn't have to pick up a rusher, he could sneak out into the route as an extra receiver.

Favre had a great day going to those extra receivers, which are referred to as check-downs, when his primary targets weren't open, and his 127.1 quarterback rating was the single most valuable factor in the Packers' victory.

If the Packers can execute with the same efficiency on Monday, they may be able to take advantage of the Eagles' aggressiveness. But over the years, Johnson and the Eagles have come out way ahead in the risk-reward analysis regarding blitzes, primarily because they have so many veteran players who have worked together in the scheme for years.

"It leaves them vulnerable to big plays," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "But they do a great job of covering their bases and bringing the pressure to make you make quick decisions."

How quick depends on the protection, and it's unknown just how well the Packers will do. What is known is that the Eagles will blitz, and blitz often.

"Philly is going to give you what Philly is going to give you," tight end Bubba Franks said. "There's certain situations where they may heat it up a little bit more. You have to be pretty smart to pick it up.

"All the guys have to be on the same page, and you just have to be able to communicate. As long as we're able to communicate up front, we shouldn't have a problem."

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