GREEN BAY – Of the many reasons the Philadelphia Eagles have won only three games this season, their defense isn't one of them.
The Packers have faced two highly regarded defenses the past two weeks in the Colts and Bears, but they're looking at Philly's unit as potentially just as challenging.
While Green Bay has rolled up 30-plus points on offense each of the past two games, doing so again won't be any easier against this crew.
"There's an identity there," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of groups coordinated by Jim Schwartz, the former Lions head coach who is now in his fifth year running the Eagles' defense. "You're going to play against a very fast and physical defense. That's his trademark."
As is customary with Schwartz, his unit once again hangs its hat on pressuring the quarterback. Philadelphia's 36 sacks are tied for second in the league, a big reason the Eagles rank eighth in the league in passing yards allowed and are tied for fifth in third-down efficiency.
Half of those sacks have been turned in by three of Philly's front four – ends Brandon Graham (7) and Derek Barnett (5½) and dynamic All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox (5½).
"It's a hard, penetrating front," LaFleur said. "We know that's where it starts with this defense."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has faced a Schwartz defense at least a dozen times in his career and has plenty of respect for this one. He called Graham "a savvy, savvy vet" and Cox a "game-wrecker."
He also tipped a cap to longtime Lions cornerback Darius Slay, who's now Philly's top cover man. Slay and Davante Adams have matched up plenty of times in recent years and all signs would point to Sunday being no different, with Slay coming off a Monday night game in which he was assigned to Seattle's DK Metcalf from start to finish.
"Not every great corner is gonna do star coverage, and for years and years and years he's traveled both sides of the field and in the slot with the best receiver on the other team," Rodgers said.
Metcalf had a big night this past Monday in the Seahawks' victory, but that may have been due in part to Russell Wilson only getting sacked twice and avoiding other pressures.
The Packers' offensive line has played as well as any position group on the entire team in 2020 despite numerous injuries and lineup shuffling, as Rodgers has been sacked just 11 times.
Green Bay is expected to be without center Corey Linsley (knee), which will move left guard Elgton Jenkins into his place and lead to the first NFL start for rookie Jon Runyan. Meanwhile right guard Lucas Patrick (toe) was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, so his status remains uncertain. When he left last Sunday's game, Billy Turner slid over from tackle and veteran Rick Wagner came off the bench to man the edge.
But the Eagles have their own injury issue up front, too, with Cox popping up on Wednesday's injury report and sitting out practice. The Packers caught a break last week when the Bears were without Akiem Hicks in the middle of their defensive line. It would be another stroke of good fortune to miss Cox if his neck injury holds him out.
The Packers will prepare to face him, though, just as they prepared for Hicks. They'll also be ready for anything Schwartz decides to throw at them.
"They stress you with defenses you don't see a whole lot," Rodgers said. "They stress you with empty (no safety deep) pressures."
The Eagles (3-7-1) are just a half-game out of first place in the strange and struggling NFC East, so they still have plenty to play for.
It's not common for a three-win team in December to have a defense ranked ninth in the league in total yards, but it's easy for a stout unit to be overlooked due to a team's record. That won't be the case come Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"Definitely not underrated by us at all," Rodgers said. "They're a top 10 defense."