Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
By John Mullin
The Bears have seen both of these teams and beaten both, plus losing in game 16 to the Packers. This is the best game of the wild-card weekend in either conference.
This is a game between two of the NFLs top four passers: Aaron Rodgers (No. 3, 101.2 rating) and Michael Vick (No. 4, 100.2 rating). Vick has the East Coast hysteria reaction behind him; Rodgers is simply the better quarterback. More on that shortly.
Obviously Rodgers and Vick dont go head-to-head. No, the real matchup is the defensive scheming of Green Bay coordinator Dom Capers, along with Pittsburghs Dick LeBeau, one of the two best practitioners of 3-4 schemes and blitzes, against Andy Reid, arguably the leading branch still operating from the Bill Walsh tree of West Coast offenses.
The game is decided by players but the key from Capers and Reid is their abilities to put those players in the best positions to succeed. The Eagles have the NFLs best core of young skill players in receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and running back LeSean McCoy, all less than 26 years old. Reid is the best thing that could have happened to that cluster, and to Vick.
Its been great to be considered one of the best in the league right now, Vick said. Its an amazing accomplishment, not only to myself, but to all the people who helped me get here. Ive got to give a lot of credit to my teammates, because without them, I wouldnt be in this position.
But the Packers can break Vick down. They allow just 15 points a game; only the Pittsburgh Steelers (14.5) are more difficult to score against. They allow 194.2 passing yards per game; among playoff teams, only New Orleans is more difficult to pass against. They have sacked quarterbacks 47 times in the 2010 season; only Pittsburgh (48) has more.
Only the New England Patriots have more (25) than the Packers 24 interceptions. The six teams with the more interceptions all are in the playoffs.
The point is, this as much as any playoff game will come down to play by two very, very good quarterbacks. None of the other games have this level of quarterback on both sides. And for all of the fireworks and fanfare of Vicks first half of 2010, Rodgers is better.
In the past seven games Rodgers has thrown 16 TD passes and just 2 interceptions. Vick was sacked six times by the Minnesota Vikings in a must-win game for the Eagles and Philadelphia has given up 50 sacks this season.
Vick threw zero interceptions in his seven games; he has thrown 6 in his last five games. His passer ratings were high but the Eagles were a pedestrian 3-2 over those games.
Capers demonstrated again how exceptional his blitzing approaches are when his scheming produced 6 sacks of Jay Cutler and held the Bears to exactly 3 points in last Sundays game in Green Bay. Capers has the luxury of being sack master Clay Matthews being able to work from either side and placing Matthews on the right side would put him rushing in Vicks vision field and also from Vicks left, which is Vicks preferred side to run.
One thing you cannot let him do, is that you cannot let him run left, said Herman Edwards, ESPN analyst and former NFL player and coach. Once you let him out of pocket, youre in trouble.
Philadelphia has one of the NFLs elite defenses year after year. But the Eagles are a young defense, with a number of players who are experiencing playoffs for the first time. And while Sean McDermott has taken the concepts of the late Jim Johnson and Philadelphia has not missed a beat defensively, Rodgers has proved the equal of one top defense after another.
Packers 24 Eagles 20
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.