GREEN BAY, Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers started this Thanksgiving week with turkey in mind.
The Philadelphia Eagles are thinking about losses.
The Eagles, with an NFL-leading 9-1 record ahead of Sunday’s game against the Packers, lead the league by 12 turns. This is backed by a defense that is tied for first place with 13 steals and first overall with 21 clearances.
“It’s a solid unit,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “Look at every level of their defense, they have star players.”
The line of defense borders on the absurd. How about four people in Robert Quinn, Brandon Graham, Ndamukong Su and Milton Williams? These are backup copies of the Eagles. The Eagles acquired Quinn, who finished second in the NFL in sacks last year, from the Bears on a trade deadline, and last week added veteran defensemen Su and Linval Joseph. Joseph went from being unemployed to starting against the Colts and stopping Jonathan Taylor in just a few days.
As linebacker, the Eagles signed Husson Reddick, who had 23.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in the last two seasons, and Keesir White, who had 144 tackles for the Chargers last year, are at large. They join T.J. Edwards, a former Wisconsin star who went from undrafted free agent to standout starter.
An opportunity arose in the corner, and the Eagles responded. Twice. They acquired Darius Slay from the Lions for a third and fifth round pick in 2020 and then signed James Bradberry when he was released by the rival giants in March. Then, late in camp, the Eagles sent the Saints two late-round draft picks for the safety of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Reddick leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Gardner-Johnson leads the NFL with six steals. Bradbury and Slay each have three interceptions and both allow completion percentages below 50%.
Behind these cunning moves, the Eagles built a powerful unit. They are in seventh place with 18.3 points per game. They are second in total defense (300.6 yards per game), second in pass defense per game (178.4) and first in passing per game (5.07). They are number one in steal percentage, seventh in sack percentage and ninth in the red zone.
“This is a defense that can really work,” Lafleur said. “I think they play their scheme very well. Obviously the two outside corners are a really good combo and they know they can count on the shot to hit home so they can be a little more aggressive in certain situations. I think that’s a lot of reasons why they had so many picks.
“Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was a great addition to them. We saw him up close and in person when we trained against the Saints and he is a guy we respect a lot. He’s one of the best defenders in the league.”
All of this adds up to what appears to be a colossal challenge for the Packers offense, which has struggled to deliver game after game and series after series. Green Bay is ranked 26th in scoring after being ranked No. 1 in 2020 and No. 10 in 2021. Only four teams have more casualties than Green Bay (15). season after throwing a total of nine in 32 games over the past two seasons.
Philadelphia’s rush defense is considered one of the worst in the league, a potential area for LaFleur and Rodgers, but it limited Taylor to 20 yards on 11 carries in the second half last week.
“They’re big and tough,” Lafleur said, noting that the Eagles would line up with five and six players to stop the run.
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For Green Bay to have a chance, they will have to replicate a two-week-old winning plan against Dallas. Control the ball effectively, stay in controllable situations at long range, and shoot when opportunities arise.
“It starts up front in a running and defensive game,” Rodgers said. “They have a lot of good pass rushers, guys inside and out who can catch up with you. I have to hit the ball in time, we have to open up, and we have to get them off balance by moving the pocket and obviously mixing shotgun shots.”
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