The Eagles are just over 24-hours way from their preseason opener at Lambeau Field. A showdown with the Packers marks the 16th time that the Eagles have played Green Bay during the preseason, with the Birds currently leading the series 9-6. Green Bay have had the last laugh after a crushing 27-13 win sent the Eagles “packing.” But who has the advantage heading into the preseason? Well, it’s not really who wins that matters. It’s the positional battles that begin to unravel and the schematic tweaks and notes that coaches can take into the regular season that really count.
Dating back to 2007, the Packers have at least one player from each draft class on their roster, highlighting the continuity they have strived to provide Aaron Rodgers with. But while Rodgers is entering the peak of his career, the roster is growing younger. 57 of Green Bay’s players are between the ages of 21-24, and with Aaron Rodgers and other veterans likely to completely miss this game or see very little action (who can blame them after Green Bay’s continued preseason injury heartache), it means that we will see many of the young guns in action. So what can we expect?
Rodgers may not be that active
Especially if last season is anything to go by. However, Green Bay do have a rather important battle behind their superstar signal-caller. Brett Hundley is entering his third season with the Packers after marinating behind Aaron Rodgers and by this point should be more polished than your average backup. Hundley may see a large portion of snaps, but behind him things get even more interesting.
Joe Callahan was extremely fun to watch this time last year. Going 54-88 for 499 yards and 3 touchdowns over the course of the preseason campaign, it’s safe to say the Packers found a reliable QB3. When you factor in Taysom Hill’s athletic traits, the picture becomes an exciting one. Hill suffered four season-ending injuries during his college career but after finally touching down in the NFL…he will be keen to show his talent has never been doubted.
This of course bodes well for a weakened Eagles secondary who frankly need a confidence boost and a chance to strutter some swag. That will be far easier without a huge impact from one of the best needle threaders in the game.
Boots on the ground
Like the Eagles, Green Bay have a lot of intrigue when it comes to their backfield. Ty Montgomery leads the charge, but BYU’s Jamaal Williams acts as a rookie who can hurt the Defense in both the run and the pass. Jim Schwartz spoke on dual-threat backs recently, expressing how difficult it can be to diagnose the play for linebackers…but practicing day-after-day against Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey is only going to prepare them for what lies ahead.
Joining Williams are two other rookie running backs in Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. The Eagles are almost certain to endure a heavy rotation of rushing threats…but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered for one of the scariest front seven’s in the league. The Eagles tied for 4th in the NFL in opposing rushes for negative yards last year and their ferocity in the redzone played a huge part of that. With some fancy new toys to play with, there’s no question that the Eagles defensive line should have more than enough answers for Green Bay, but it will be incredibly fun to see how they’re able to chain down the likes of Jamaal Williams, while preparing for a punch-up-the-gut the very next snap.
Around the outside
Both teams have intense battles at cornerback and wide receiver, and both contrast each other. The Packers have a slew of wideouts all competing to be targeted by one of the best gunslingers in the game and with Jordy Nelson likely sitting out a lot of pre-season, the competition only ripens. The Eagles have the same number of cornerbacks all vying for starting spots. What can we expect? Hard play. It’s only preseason, but there are plenty of careers that may not make it into the regular season should they fall short at the final hurdle. It’s going to be aggressive, it’s going to be tough. It has to.
DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre, who were selected in the fifth and seventh rounds of this year’s draft by the Packers will be looking to displace the likes of Geronimo Allison and Jeff Janis. It’s a tough war to wage…but one the duo along with Max McCaffrey simply have to go all in on.
Even with the absence of Aaron Rodgers, expect big throws designed for the likes of Purdue’s Yancey to stretch the field…which is again exactly what Schwartz wants to see. To see his corners in one-on-one press situations to see who can hold their own on an island and who can swim to safety. It’s a perfect game to add fuel into the fire of both team’s battles…but will the vets at the top of the Packers depth chart draw first blood against an Eagles CB corps that lacks that presence?
Keeping it tight
The Packers gifted Aaron Rodgers two new tight ends along with a revamped offensive line this offseason. Going out and acquiring the services of Martellus Bennet is one thing, but going on to sign former second-rounder Lance Kendricks, who scored 17 touchdowns during his time with the Rams (second most by a TE in franchise history) made a surefire statement. How the duo will rotate throughout preseason remains to be seen, but they will certainly present the Eagles linebackers with a strong and unique challenge early on.
Turning a corner
Last season showed just how badly the Packers needed secondary help. The absence of Sam Shields hurt the secondary but an older unit that lacked consistency couldn’t patch the hole. Green Bay let Micah Hyde walk and went on to spend their first two draft picks on defensive backs; Kevin King and Josh Jones. For King, a former teammate of Sidney Jones, he’s had to endure the same fate as Elijah Qualls, missing a huge chunk of spring OTA’s due to NCAA rules. Both of these are likely to play a huge factor on Thursday night…but the fun won’t end there for the Eagles wide receivers.
DaMarious Randall has been anything but impressive since being drafted in 2015, but with the Packers running in nickel formations as often as the Eagles, his role is still a key one if he can cement it. He will be fighting off the likes of LeDarius Gunter, who exploded with 54 tackles last year.
The Packers have plenty of young guns and underdogs looking to make the roster at a cornerback position that like the Eagles has seen a youth infusion. The difference is that the Packers have players such as Davon House (who recently suffered an injury only further spicing up the battle) who can still not only act as a veteran presence but produce when called upon. Keep an eye on how the Eagles wideouts look to take advantage of a primarily nickel-run Defense like the one they have been so used to practicing against throughout Training Camp.
Mandatory Credit: Jim Matthews/Green Bay Press Gazette via USA TODAY Sports