Eagles-Packers 5 things: Opportunity to open up the offense

Eagles-Packers 5 things: Opportunity to open up the offense

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For the third time in 2016, Carson Wentz and the Eagles take center stage on prime time, hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for some Monday Night Football at Lincoln Financial Field.

Following last week's loss in Seattle, the Eagles are back to .500 with a 5-5 record. They'll try to get their playoff hopes back on track against a 4-6 Packers squad that's currently in turmoil.

Packers in a downward spiral
These are not the Packers we're used to. Green Bay hasn't endured a losing season since 2008, Rodgers' first year as the starter, but is well on its way to another at this rate.

The Packers arrive at the Linc losers of four straight, and the last two have been particularly ugly — 47-25 at Tennessee and 42-24 at Washington. While head coach Mike McCarthy has the built-in excuse of rampant injuries to key players and at important positions, that hasn't stopped rumblings that his job might be on the line.

McCarthy has a track record of success that includes a Super Bowl, but the Packers have gone from being among the class of the NFC to rapidly deteriorating. Another loss on Monday would all but eliminate their already slimming shot at the postseason, and even a win might simply delay the inevitable.

Rodgers still dangerous
One of the biggest mysteries in Green Bay is what in the world is wrong with the quarterback. Sure, the protection hasn't been very good, and wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been injured or not himself, but Rodgers' efficiency numbers are down going back to last season (although not as much in 2016) and not at all emblematic of the two-time MVP.

Of course, Rodgers' decline is relative. While his 63.2 completion percentage and his 6.7 yards per pass attempt in particular are down significantly from his career totals, he's still thrown 25 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Defenses also still have to watch Rodgers doesn't hit the big play over the top — he has six completions this season of 40-plus yards.

In other words, don't count out a five-time Pro Bowler. He may be on the verge of turning 33, and his supporting cast is not what it once was, but Rodgers remains one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game.

Opportunity to open up the offense
Few teams have experienced more trouble with downfield passing than the Eagles. Fortunately for them, few teams have been worse at defending the pass than the Packers, which means there should be plenty of opportunities for a much maligned receiving corps.

The Packers have run out of bodies at the cornerback position. Sam Shields is on injured reserve with a concussion. Demetri Goodson is out for the foreseeable future with an ugly knee injury. Damarious Randall is questionable to play Monday, but even if he suits up, he hasn't played since Week 6.

The result of all those absences is an opponents' passer rating of 105.5, second highest in the NFL. The Packers have also allowed 37 completions of 20 yards or more and nine of 40-plus — only five teams have surrendered more.

The Eagles haven't had much success going vertical this season, with only 29 passing plays of 20-plus yards and just four over 40. The opportunities should present themselves on Monday though, provided the receivers can catch and hang on to the football.

If the Eagles are healthy enough themselves
That might be much easier said than done, seeing as the Eagles' offense will be down a few bodies as well. Lane Johnson's replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, has been ruled out with a knee injury, forcing left guard Allen Barbre to kick out to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski to play LG.

Ryan Mathews is out with a knee injury as well, which could also have implications in pass protection.

It's clear that losing Vaitai hurts the Eagles. After a rough debut, the rookie has settled in nicely. Now the line is further shaken up with Barbre's move outside, especially considering he's more comfortable on the interior.

Mathews' absence likely means bigger roles for Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and while Sproles is an excellent pass blocker, Smallwood is very much a work in progress in that aspect. If the rookie misses an assignment, it could result in a pass-rusher getting a free shot at the quarterback.

How those personnel changes affect or limit the Eagles' passing attack is key. With pass-rushers like Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, protecting Wentz was going to be difficult enough. Now it could be a serious problem.

No more margin for error
Could the Eagles lose on Monday and still make the playoffs? Theoretically, yes, but that would be a tough road to navigate. Even with a victory, they would be behind Washington for the sixth and final playoff spot, with the same record as Tampa Bay and Minnesota. A defeat would be a huge setback to say the least.

Is this a must-win in the most literal sense? Technically, no, but they can only afford to drop so many.

Carson Wentz on Alshon Jeffery: 'I love that guy'

Carson Wentz on Alshon Jeffery: 'I love that guy'

There’s been a sense for a while now that the relationship between Alshon Jeffery and Carson Wentz is a bit strained.

It didn’t help when anonymous quotes popped up on ESPN from an unnamed player criticizing Wentz, and WIP’s Howard Eskin, who is also the Eagles’ radio sideline reporter, quickly reported that Jeffery was the source of those quotes, something Jeffery denied.

On Tuesday, we learned Jeffery is out for the year, and on Thursday, Wentz talked about how big a loss that is but also spoke — in glowing terms — about his relationship with Jeffery.

“I have a great relationship with Alshon,” Wentz said. “He’s been an awesome teammate ever since he got here. When he first signed here, we went to dinner, we got to know each other, we both had high expectations for each other. It’s been awesome getting to know him as a guy and as a teammate and seeing the plays he’s been able to make over the years and this year as well. I love that guy and obviously the injury is very unfortunate.”

Jeffery has been Wentz’s No. 1 wide receiver in their three years together, with 143 catches for 1,754 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Eagles are 21-12 in 33 games with both Jeffery and Wentz in uniform.

But both have dealt with injuries since 2017. Wentz missed eight regular-season games and both playoff runs in 2017 and 2018, and Jeffery, whose season is now over, will have missed nine games the last two years.

Jeffery, who missed a game with a calf injury earlier this year and two more with an ankle injury, suffered a season-ending foot injury in the Giants game Monday night.

NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jon Clark reported Thursday Jeffery has a Lysfranc injury and is considering surgery.

Jeffery, a Pro Bowler with the Bears in 2013, had just 43 catches for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games this year.

He did have 137 yards against the Dolphins two weeks ago, his second-biggest game as an Eagle.

Jeffery had 45 catches for 732 yards and five TDs in 13 games with Nick Foles, including 12-for-219 and three TDs in the 2017 Super Bowl run.

“Alshon, shoot, I love that guy and his injury was unfortunate,” Wentz said. “It’s part of the game and it’s a part of the game we all hate, but he came in ready to work every day, and he had injuries here and there throughout the year and that definitely lingered and hampered him, but when he was healthy he was making plays and he was helping us out in a big way and that’s a tough loss for us.” 

Jeffery is under contract for 2020 at $12.75 million, a figure the Eagles guaranteed earlier this year. They would absorb a $26 million cap hit if they release him, and thanks to the injury he’s now untradeable, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Jeffery isn’t here next year, although the early part of his season could be in jeopardy.

Wentz obviously isn’t going anywhere so it makes sense for Wentz to speak highly of Jeffery because the two are most likely going to be together for at least another year.

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Eagles still without Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor at practice

Eagles still without Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor at practice

As the Eagles held their first real practice in their short week before Sunday’s game in Washington, they were without several key starters.

Lane Johnson (ankle), Derek Barnett (ankle) and Nelson Agholor (knee) were all absent Thursday. 

All three are in serious danger of missing the upcoming game. 

Meanwhile, Jalen Mills (elbow) and Jordan Howard (shoulder) were back on the field after being listed as limited in Wednesday’s estimation. Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact and can’t play until he is. 

• Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain in the win over the Giants and is fully expected to miss this upcoming game. Fourth-year offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai took first-team reps at right tackle next to Brandon Brooks on Thursday. Despite an offer to move sides earlier in the season from Jason Peters, the Eagles are sticking with Big V at right tackle. This way, they don’t weaken two spots. 

• Agholor revealed on Wednesday that he actually hurt his knee in Week 6 against Minnesota and what happened late in the fourth quarter against New England just aggravated the existing injury. He is in danger of missing his second straight game and his third in four weeks with a knee injury he hopes won’t eventually need surgery. 

While the Eagles had six receivers at practice on Thursday, three of them were on the practice squad. Robert Davis was bumped up from the practice squad Thursday morning and will need to play on Sunday in Washington against his former team. 

The Eagles went into last week’s game with just three active receivers and it was a disaster. Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside both got hurt and the Eagles finished the game with Greg Ward as their only healthy receiver, although Josh Perkins was able to take snaps there. 

• Barnett injured his ankle in the Miami game and still somehow managed to finish the game and play 50 snaps. Think about that; he was able to finish a game with an injury that will probably force him out for at least two full games. That’s impressive. 

Without Barnett last week, Vinny Curry started and played well. Josh Sweat rotated in and also made some plays. 

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