I’m not used to this: a perusal of Injury Reports heading into Thursday’s game indicates the Packers are much healthier than the Eagles.
Philadelphia has an impressive arsenal of receivers on its roster. It starts with veteran Alshon Jeffery, a Round 2 pick in 2012. He spent his first four years in Chicago, before moving on to Philly in 2017. Limited to 13 games last year, he still managed 65 catches for 843 yards (13.0 average) and 6 TDs. Due to a calf injury, he was listed on Monday as a limited participant. If he plays, he won’t be at full strength. The Packers know Jeffery well from his years with the Bears.
DeSean Jackson is a 32-year old mighty mite (175 pounds) who played for the Bucs in 2017-18. His glory years were in his first stint with the Eagles, when he was a pro bowler in 2009, 2010, and 2013. With Tampa Bay in 12 games last season, he showed he still can make big plays: 41 catches for 774 yards, and a fine per-catch average of 18.9. Trouble is, Jackson sat out of Monday’s practice with an abdomen issue. He’s the Eagles’ deep threat. Update: Jackson has been ruled out for Thursday’s game.
Nelson Agholer, the 20th overall draft pick in 2015, has been Carson Wentz’s most used wide receiver on the year, with 18 catches for 168 yards and three touchdowns. The fifth-year Eagle was a starter all last year, registering 64 catches for 736 yards and four TDs.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the most awkward name this side of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, was drafted in Round 2 last year, while MVS went in Round 5. He might start in place of Jackson, though he too did not participate in the Eagles walk-through on Monday due to a heel injury.
And let’s not forget healthy Zach Ertz, the eighth year tight end who’s been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years. His stats so far are 17 catches for 190 yards.
The Eagles are an unabashedly pass-dominant team, and they’ve invested heavily in their wide receivers. Pro Football Focus just came out with their QB ratings, and they have Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Carson Wentz as their top three. Here’s what they say about Aaron Rodgers, who they have relegated to ninth place:
“After a rough start to the season against the Chicago Bears, Rodgers has gotten into more of a groove the last two weeks, though he’s also played on the much more conservative end of quarterbacks.He has just two turnover-worthy plays through three weeks, and while he ranks second at avoiding negatively graded throws, he is just 25th in positively graded throws. Rodgers still has some work to do to get back to the elite play we have been accustomed to seeing.”
On the year, Wentz has averaged 268 passing yards per game, well above Rodgers’ 216. He has six TDs and two interceptions, and he’s been sacked seven times – the same number as Aaron. He’s a giant of a man who came out of North Dakota State as the second overall pick in 2016.
I’ll be curious to see if either of the quarterbacks will try to use his running ability. Both were once effective as runners, especially at converting third downs. Neither has shown any such inclination to this season – each has a total of eight rushing yards after three games.
Rodgers needs to utilize every weapon at his command as he tries to return his game to previous levels. Maybe a couple of scrambling runs by the QB can help get that third down conversion percentage out of the gutter. The Pack’s third down conversion rate so far is an even 25% – ahead of only the Jets and the Dolphins.
As a side note, Nick Foles paid out $2 million to leave the Eagles. On February 5, 2019, the Eagles announced that they would pick up the $20 million option on Foles’ contract. The same day, however, Foles chose to exercise his option of paying $2 million to void their team’s option, becoming a free agent. Then on March 13, 2019, he signed a four-year contract worth $88 million with Jacksonville. To complete the chain of events, Foles suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter of his Week 1 game against the Chiefs; he underwent surgery on his broken left clavicle the next day.
Packers-Eagles Front Office Comparisons
To support their major investment in Wentz, the Eagles already had competent and experienced receivers when their franchise QB returned in 2017 from his ACL surgery: veteran Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and of course Zach Ertz.
Instead of resting on those laurels, for the 2018 campaign the Eagles brought back Jordan Matthews, a Round 2 pick in 2014. Then in March they expended their second round pick on JJ Arcega-Whiteside – who we might well see on Thursday night. Finally, prior to the 2019 season they traded for 3-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson– getting him for next to nothing.
What has Green Bay done lately to support Aaron Rodgers and enhance its pass attack? Well, prior to the 2016 season, they let go of their top receiver of 2015, James Jones. And midway through 2016 they parted ways with Jared Abbrederis.
They topped that when they jettisoned Jordy Nelson and Jeff Janis after the 2017 season. Midway through the 2018 season, they ejected Ty Montgomery, and at the end of that campaign they waved good-bye to Randall Cobb. J’mon Moore failed to make the final roster in 2019, and 4th-year receiver Trevor Davis was traded away about 10 days ago.
Most of these moves can be justified – but they certainly called for a bunch of trades or draft picks to be made in order to acquire decent replacements.
In the last five years, how many receivers did the Packers draft in, say, the top four rounds? That would be Ty Montgomery (2015, Round 3) and J’Mon Moore (2017, Round 4)) – both washouts.
Now, the surest way to replenish a roster is by trading for established players from other teams. I had to go back to 2002 to find a wide receiver acquired by the Packers in a trade: Terry Glenn, who lasted here all of one season.
The Packers are a fairly strong favorite to prevail over the Eagles on Thursday night. To do so, I think Green Bay needs to have the more productive passing attack. Normally, I would say the 2019 Packers are no aerial match for the defending Super Bowl champs, but due to a spate of injuries Wentz might, for this game at least, have the weaker set of receivers.
Given the ailing Eagles receivers, it’s entirely possible that the impressive Packers defense will throttle Wentz and company. Yes, the Packers might just secure their fourth straight win while still not managing a single game of over 235 passing yards on the year – no less than 8 QBs are presently averaging over 300. Who would have thought this would be possible?