Monday Night Football prediction: Eagles add to Rodgers' woes, edge Packers
And five key stats and matchups that will likely decide this 'Monday Night Football' game
Week 12 of Monday Night Football features two teams on the brink. The Packers (4-6) find themselves on a four-game losing streak and in third place in the NFC North. The Eagles are 5-5 after starting 3-0. They're last in the NFC East, but still alive in the wild-card race.
Both teams are on the outside of the playoff picture. But with a win, both sides would give themselves a shot at climbing back into the postseason mix. That's what is at stake Monday night.
Unfortunately for the Packers, I don't see them mounting a surge in the final month of the season. I don't see them surviving their trip to Philadelphia, because they're in total free-fall mode. It's not just the offense that's struggling; the defense has been even worse lately. Meanwhile, the Eagles have one of the NFL's best defenses, which should be enough to send the Packers back to Green Bay with a loss, even though their offense still has issues, most of which start with Carson Wentz.
But the Eagles' defense and special teams still exist. They'll be the only good units on the field Monday night. That's why the Eagles will win, though I'm betting Aaron Rodgers will do enough for his team to hang around.
The prediction: Eagles 27, Packers 20
Let's get to the key stats and matchups that will likely decide this game.
1. The Eagles' defense can win the game
The Eagles' defense is ranked first in DVOA, eighth in yards given up per game, and fourth in points allowed per game. They've notched the ninth-most takeaways. They're pretty much the entire reason why the team is still alive this late in the season. And they're going to be the reason the Eagles beat the Packers.
Interestingly enough, the Eagles aren't good against the run, allowing 4.5 yards per carry. But that won't be an issue against a Packers team that can't run the ball (more on that later). So let's focus on how the Eagles can shut down Aaron Rodgers.
For one, the Eagles are good at getting after the quarterback, registering 26 sacks this season, and the Packers' offensive line is banged up. Starting center JC Tretter and guard T.J. Lang have both been ruled out with injuries. As it stands, they've already allowed 24 sacks this season. Expect Jim Schwartz to attack the Packers' offensive line.
He won't need to commit too many extra men to do that, which is important. According to Pro Football Focus, 20 of the Eagles' 26 sacks have come when they only rush four defenders. In all, they send four pass rushers on roughly 80 percent of their snaps against the pass. So, the Eagles can get to Rodgers without sending the house. As I said, that's important, because the Eagles' secondary is good enough to shut down the Packers' underwhelming receivers. Plus, Rodgers' passer rating sinks from 103. 5 to 70.6 when he's under duress, per PFF.
Location also matters. The game will be played in Philadelphia, where the Eagles are giving up 9.5 points per game.
2. The Packers' offensive issues
The strange part about Rodgers' down year is that he has still thrown 25 touchdowns, the second most in the league. In standard scoring Fantasy leagues, he's the top scorer. Basically, if you resort to using statistics like total yards and touchdowns, Rodgers still appears to be a quarterback god.
Trouble lies with his yards per attempt. Rodgers is averaging 6.73 yards per pass, which clocks in at 26th. Case Keenum was averaging more yards per pass than Rodgers before he got benched. Last year, Rodgers averaged 6.68 yards per attempt, so at least he's (sorta) improving.
He's going to have a rough night against an Eagles defense that's ranked second in DVOA against the pass.
The Packers' offensive woes aren't entirely on Rodgers, though. His receivers stink and he operates without a running game. The Packers' leading rusher is still Eddie Lacy, who hasn't played since mid-October. Rodgers is second in rushing yards while a converted receiver, Ty Montgomery, is third. Rodgers is also the only Packer to have scored a touchdown with his legs.
During their four-game losing streak, as they've repeatedly fallen behind, they've been forced to pretty much abandon their ground game to let Rodgers air it out. But as I just noted, Rodgers isn't exactly airing it out by averaging less than 7 yards per pass.
3. Carson Wentz under pressure
Wentz's rookie season hasn't gone as planned following his hot start. A lot of his struggles can be attributed to pressure.
When Wentz is well protected, he's completing 70.2 percent of his passes and averaging 7.1 yards per attempt, with 10 touchdowns and three picks for a 97.9 passer rating. When he's under pressure, his completion percentage drops to 39.5, his yards per attempt sinks to 4.6 and he has thrown one touchdown and four picks for a 37.9 passer rating, per PFF. And if you're curious how those numbers stack up, consider his passer rating under pressure is the worst in the NFL. Yes, even Keenum was better.
So, this game might rest on Wentz's arm and the Packers' ability to generate pressure. Keep in mind that the Eagles are dealing with injuries in their backfield, as Ryan Mathews is sidelined with a bad knee and Darren Sproles will play through a rib issue.
Here's the good news for the Eagles: Wentz has been under pressure on just 27.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to PFF. That's the fifth-lowest percentage in the league. As long as they can keep that number down, they'll have a chance down the stretch.
4. The Packers defense's four-game skid
The Eagles' offense is struggling, averaging 21.3 points per game since their Week 4 bye. And after his hot start, Wentz has thrown four touchdowns and six picks in his past six games. But this might be the game for Wentz and the Eagles' offense to break out.
The most concerning problem facing the Packers isn't their offense, as hard as that is to believe. In their past four games -- all losses -- they've allowed just over 38 points per game. In their past two games against the Titans and Redskins, they allowed 44.5 points per game.
Look for Wentz to target his team of tight ends, because the Packers can't really defend that position group.
Packers are one of only four teams in the NFL to allow 700+ receiving yards to opposing TEs. This is an Ertz, Celek and Burton kind of game.— Alex Smith (@Alex_SmithPHI) November 25, 2016
5. Special teams matter
The Eagles enter the game with the best special teams by DVOA. The Packers are ranked 27th.
The Eagles average a league-high 33.7 yards per kickoff return. They're also the only team with two kickoff return touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Packers surrender a league-worst 30.5 yards per kickoff return.
It's easy to overlook special teams, but the Eagles might be able to gain an edge with a big return or two. I'm expecting this to be a close game and a special teams touchdown could swing it in the Eagles' favor.
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