Eagles-Packers player matchups to watch in Week 12

Eagles-Packers player matchups to watch in Week 12 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (9-1) will host the Green Bay Packers (4-7) on Sunday Night Football at the Linc.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Aaron Rodgers vs. Jonathan Gannon

As Jonathan Gannon stepped to the microphone for his weekly press conference, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator made his main focus for the week pretty clear.

“A-Rod coming to town,” Gannon said.

Rodgers, 38, has been the NFL’s MVP the last two seasons. And while he won’t win the award for a third consecutive time in 2022 and even though the Packers’ offense isn’t nearly what it once was, Rodgers is still a dangerous player. Of course, the Packers’ offense has struggled this season. They’re 26th in points, 15th in yards and 19th in passing yards.

After throwing for 300+ yards nine times over the last two seasons, Rodgers has gone the first 11 games of this season without a single 300+ yard game. But Rodgers still Rodgers and the Eagles have to be ready for him on Sunday night.

Rodgers is easily the best quarterback the Eagles will face this season. As a reminder, here are the QBs, the Eagles have beaten so far this year: Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Kyler Murray, Cooper Rush, Kenny Pickett, Davis Mills, Matt Ryan.

I’m very curious to see what the game plan looks like from Gannon against Rodgers. Last season, the Eagles went through that stretch playing top quarterbacks and went with a ton of loose zones, keeping everything in front of them. Philosophically, this is what Gannon believes in. He doesn’t want to give up big plays and it’s a sound strategy. The problem was that last year, good quarterbacks were happy to march up and down the field against the Eagles and do it the hard way. The Eagles couldn’t stop it.

This year, there’s a lot more talent on the defensive side of the ball and it’s not like the Packers are an offensive juggernaut. So that strategy might work if the Eagles are able to force some big plays and get off the field with third-down stops or takeaways. Or maybe Gannon will be a little more aggressive. It’ll be something to watch.

Packers running backs vs. Eagles run defense

The Packers’ top running back is Aaron Jones, who has 778 rushing yards this season and a 5.4 per attempt average. They also mix it up with their power back AJ Dillon (6-0, 247), who has rushed for 467 yards but with a less impressive average of 4.0.

After a horrendous opening drive last week against Jonathan Taylor and the Colts, the Eagles’ run defense was really good the rest of the way. Taylor had 49 yards on 7 carries to open that game in the first drive but finished it with 22 carries for 84 yards (3.8). The Eagles’ run defense with Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh getting reps was much, much better.

While Dillon presents a slight concern because of his frame and because tackling issues have been present for the Eagles during a lot of the 2022 season, Jones is clearly just the better player. He’s averaging 2.3 yards after contact per attempt, which ties him for 10th in the NFL. He can be tough to bring down sometimes.

Christian Watson vs. Eagles corners

For much of the season, Rodgers didn’t have a ton of trust in his young receivers but over the last couple of games Watson has been great. The big rookie from North Dakota State has 8 catches for 155 yards and 5 touchdowns the last couple weeks. He’s on a roll right now.

Aside from Watson, the Packers also have Allen Lazard, who leads the team in targets with 66. And Randall Cobb returned last week after missing some time. In his return against the Titans, Cobb had 6/73.

Cobb primarily operates out of the slot, so this will be a big test for Josiah Scott, who had an up-and-down performance against the Colts’ Parris Campbell last week. Scott is filling in for starter Avonte Maddox, who is on IR with a hamstring injury. The earliest Maddox can return is Week 14 at the Giants.

Eagles receivers vs. Packers corners

With Eric Stokes on IR, the Packers shuffled their secondary a bit. Safety Darnell Savage is now playing the nickel with Rasul Douglas and Jaire Alexander as the top outside corners. Adrian Amos and now Rudy Ford are their safeties.

I’d expect to see Alexander shadow A.J. Brown in this game. Alexander traveled with Terry McLaurin and saw mixed results back in Week 7. While Alexander kept McLaurin in check for a decent portion of that game, McLaurin still caught 4 of 6 targets on Alexander for 67 yards and a touchdown. So if the Packers want to try to let Alexander match with Brown, the Eagles should still be able to attack.

And then I like the matchup of DeVonta Smith on Douglas quite a bit. Douglas has had a nice career since leaving the Eagles but that’s still an advantage for the Birds.

Jalen Hurts vs. Packers’ Whac-A-Mole D

If you look at the box score from the Packers’ loss to the Titans, you’ll be a little confused. In last week’s game, the Packers really held Titans running back Derrick Henry in check. Henry had just 23 carries for 87 yards (3.1) and a touchdown. On paper, that looks like a success.

But Ryan Tannehill threw for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns and the Titans dialed up a jump pass from Henry down by the goal line.

Basically, the Packers did everything they could to sell out against the run — not a terrible idea — but left themselves susceptible everywhere else. Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette called it the Packers’ “what-a-mole” defense. I quite like that. Basically, the Packers scrambled to patch one leak and others kept springing up.

That makes me extremely curious how the Packers will play the Eagles defensively on Sunday. After watching Jalen Hurts run for 86 yards with plenty of designed runs, it would make some sense for them to try to stop that ability. Because even after shutting down Henry last week, the Packers still have the 24th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. Maybe they view the threat of Hurts and Sanders similarly to the Titans and Henry and perhaps they sell out to stop it.

If that happens, the Eagles have to have their answers ready. Hurts has been a good passer all year and if the Packers choose to eliminate his runs, Hurts has to make them pay with his arm.

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