Eagles Land in Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers know they can rely on Brett Favre on offense. The 17-year veteran, though, may need to lean on his defense as the Packers open their season at Lambeau Field against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Green Bay won its final four games last season to finish 8-8 and barely missed the playoffs. The optimism that came with surpassing expectations was enough to lure the 37-year-old quarterback back for what once again may be his final season.
But Favre, who attempted a career-high 613 passes last year, will have to do much of the heavy lifting. Running back Ahman Green departed via free agency to Houston, projected starter Vernand Morency has been slow to recover from a knee injury suffered in the team's first practice and rookie Brandon Jackson missed the final preseason game due to the effects of a concussion.
"I'm pretty sure I'm the guy right now," said Jackson, a second-round pick from Nebraska. "I guess coach and them will make that decision I guess tomorrow or Friday. Hopefully I'll get the start."
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Philadelphia -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 35.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on Philadelphia -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Favre was intercepted just 18 times last year after throwing a career-high 29 in 2005, and that kind of improved decision-making, plus connecting with wideouts Donald Driver - currently questionable with a sprained foot - and Greg Jennings will prove crucial if the Packers are to beat the Eagles for the first time in five regular-season meetings since 2000.
Favre was picked off twice last year in a 31-9 loss at Philadelphia in which Green Bay was held scoreless in the second half.
"They're good enough to give you a basic look and bring a corner or safety blitz, and you go, 'That's just so unsound, there's no way they can do that.'" Favre told the Packers' official Web site about the Eagles' secondary. "It's exotic looks without being too crazy, and I say that from their end. They have guys who have done it, done it well, and seen it work."
He is 4-7 lifetime versus the Eagles, and his 62.7 quarterback rating is his lowest against any opponent. Favre also has 147 wins, leaving him one shy of tying John Elway atop the all-time list.
While Favre will rally the offense, Green Bay's defense should be good enough to give him a chance to win each week. The Packers boast two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Al Harris and Charles Woodson, a deep defensive line and competent linebackers, led by Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk.
"I think the strength will really be our defensive line, and then we've got some of the best linebackers in the game, guys that can run and guys that like to be physical," said Woodson, who was third in the league with eight interceptions in 2006. "So I just think all around, the defense is going to be pretty special this year.
"I think our thing this year is to put points on the board as a defensive unit. We've got the guys back there that can do it."
Eagles veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb has proven himself healthy with a sharp preseason after missing the final six games of 2006 with a torn ACL. It was the second straight year McNabb's season was cut short due to injury after missing the last seven games of 2005 with a sports hernia, the kind of injuries Favre has avoided as he is set to extend his NFL-record consecutive starts streak to 238.
"Things happen. You get nagging injuries," the ninth-year pro said. "You have to continue to stay on top of it."
Those injury problems may have prompted the Eagles to draft quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round. Kolb, who played his college ball at Houston, may start the year as McNabb's backup since veteran A.J. Feeley injured his non-throwing hand in last Thursday's preseason finale against the New York Jets.
McNabb has dominated the Packers in his last three starts, throwing for 950 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception. He threw for 288 yards and two scores last year - both to Greg Lewis in a 77-second span of the third quarter.
The Eagles, who went 10-6 last year, are coming off their fifth NFC East division title in six years and lost at New Orleans in the second round. Running back Bryan Westbrook shouldered the offensive burden after McNabb's injury and produced a career-high 1,217 yards, proving himself more than capable of carrying the load.
"I would love to have more carries,'' said Westbrook, who also led the team with 77 catches. "But, in this offense, when we have a guy like me who can catch the ball out of the backfield and can present matchup problems with linebackers, the coaches have to try to take advantage of that, as well."
McNabb, though, may not have one of his favorite targets. Tight end L.J. Smith, who also had offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia, is questionable with a groin injury. If Smith - second on the team with 50 catches and five touchdowns in 2006 - cannot play, rookie Brent Celek would likely start.
Celek led all Eagles receivers with 13 receptions and 143 yards in the preseason.
Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins again anchor the secondary for the Eagles, whose biggest changes defensively came at linebacker. Takeo Spikes was signed as a free agent to occupy the weakside spot and Chris Gocong will be on the strong side after missing 2006 due to injury.
They will flank Omar Gaither, a fifth-round pick in 2006 who was elevated to starter after the surprising release of Jeremiah Trotter in the preseason.
"I like the depth of our defensive line," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "I like the depth of our corners. The linebacker situation, I like it. So, we'll see."
By: Staci Richards - theSpread.com - Email Us
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