NFC Wild Card Report: Packers-Eagles
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Grading out the performances from the Packers' 21-16 victory over the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card playoffs ...
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers' first-ever playoff victory looked great on paper -- 18-of-27 passing for 180 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions -- but the numbers don't tell the entire story. The Packers converted eight of their first 11 third-down opportunities, several thanks to Rodgers' ability to extend plays with his feet. He completed passes to nine receivers in the first half alone and shone brightest during the Packers' three methodical scoring drives. Rodgers' fumble deep in Green Bay territory right after halftime allowed the Eagles back into the game, but he responded by marching the Packers down the field on an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to re-open a two-possession lead. Grade: A-
Running Backs: The overlooked member of the Packers' committee attack, James Starks carried 23 times for a career-high 123 yards, setting a franchise rookie playoff record. (Not bad for a guy who had just 29 carries for 101 yards all season.) All but forgotten by the third quarter, incumbent starter Brandon Jackson found the end zone on a 16-yard catch-and-run that made it 21-10. John Kuhn was more effective as a receiver out of the backfield (3 catches, 33 yards) than as a ball carrier (3 carries, 1 yard). Grade: A
Receivers: True to the spread-the-wealth ethos of the West Coast offense, nine players caught passes. Donald Driver led the way with five catches for 56 yards, while Tom Crabtree and James Jones added touchdowns. (Crabtree had caught just four balls all season.) A number of dropped passes kept the Packers from extending their lead, none worse than right before halftime, when Jones had Asante Samuel scorched for an easy touchdown that would have given the Packers a 21-3 lead. Grade: B
Offensive Line: The unit did an excellent job of keeping Rodgers clean most of the afternoon, allowing just two sacks. Daryn Colledge's holding penalty in the third quarter, rendered meaningless by Brandon Jackson's touchdown on the ensuing play, was the only flag. Particularly high marks for left tackle Chad Clifton, who managed to make Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole invisible. Grade: A
Defensive Line: While the front three failed to record any of Green Bay's three sacks, they harried Mike Vick throughout the game and never let Philadelphia's elusive quarterback get into an extended rhythm. Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins each logged tackles on LeSean McCoy, keeping Philadelphia's slippery tailback in check. Grade: B
Linebackers: From the first play from scrimmage -- Desmond Bishop's blind-side sack of Vick for a nine-yard loss -- Green Bay's linebacker corps kept Philly's pass protection on its heels. Matthews' third-down sack of Vick on a delayed blitz in the third quarter was a defensive highlight. As the Eagles tried to mount a furious last-minute rally and completed a 28-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, it was Bishop's open-field tackle of the explosive receiver that saved the day. Grade: B+
Defensive Backs: The unit performed impressively against an opponent who feasted on the big play. Tramon Williams did outstanding work on DeSean Jackson, who didn't have a reception until the fourth quarter. Charles Woodson got turned around on Jason Avant's touchdown catch, but turned in a sharp performance otherwise. And it was Williams' interception of Vick's last-minute pass to Riley Cooper in the end zone that iced the victory. Grade: A-
Special Teams: Aside from a ghastly first-quarter miscue -- when Brandon Underwood was pushed into a rolling punt and the Eagles recovered -- the special teams were adequate. Grade: B+
Coaching: A light-running team during the regular season, the Packers used the ground attack to control the clock and keep Vick off the field. Mike McCarthy's shrewd deployment of Starks will go down in Green Bay folklore. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers befuddled the Eagles consistently with five- and six-man blitzes. But one question: With less than a minute remaining before halftime and the Packers ahead 14-3 with the ball at midfield and Rodgers throwing darts, McCarthy chose not to call Green Bay's last timeout to try for more points -- a curious decision. Clock management nitpicks aside, a fine effort. Grade: A-
Quarterback: Vick went 20-of-36 for 292 yards and a touchdown, carrying eight times for 33 yards and another score -- his first-ever rushing touchdown in the playoffs. As the Eagles wrapped up the regular season on a two-game skid, many observers wondered if Vick had stopped going through his progressions and was regressing to Atlanta form. While he wasn't as accurate Sunday as he'd been for most of the regular season, Vick played well. He looked his best commanding the Eagles' hurry-up offense -- he's not the one who got tired in the NFC wild-card playoff -- but the final-reel rally proved too little too late. Grade: B
Running Backs: LeSean McCoy averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, rushing 12 times for 46 yards. Jerome Harrison carried just once for three yards. A workload any lighter would warrant an incomplete. Grade: C
Receivers: Not until Jeremy Maclin's 44-yard catch late in the second quarter did the wideouts distinguish themselves. Sure-handed slot receiver Jason Avant made seven catches for 93 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. DeSean Jackson missed about a quarter with a left knee injury and came back to catch two passes for 47 yards, but dropped a screen pass in the red zone and failed to haul in a catchable deep pass from Vick early. On the whole, a disappointing effort from a young group the Eagles have come to depend on. Grade: B-
Offensive Line: A work in progress all year long, they surrendered a sack on the first play of the game and turned in a mixed effort from there. The unit started giving Vick more time in the second half, but the quarterback wasn't able to take full advantage. False start and holding penalties on back-to-back plays for Winston Justice, who was abused by Clay Matthews all afternoon (and mercifully pulled for King Dunlap in the fourth quarter), summed up a sloppy afternoon. Grade: C
Defensive Line: Stymied for the entire first half, the Eagles' front four made an immediate impact after the break when Darryl Tapp's sack of Rodgers forced a fumble that was recovered by Juqua Parker. But the Philadelphia Police Department currently has an APB out for Trent Cole, who logged 10 sacks during the regular season but was barely heard from Sunday. Grade: C+
Linebackers: Seventh-round draft pick Jamar Chaney, starting at middle linebacker for Stewart Bradley, finished with a game-high 10 tackles -- including an open-field effort and forced fumble of Kuhn (which the Packers recovered). Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou were less effective on the wings. When the Eagles made it 21-16 and needed a stop, Keenan Clayton's third-down sack of Rodgers gave the Eagles one last chance. Grade: C+
Defensive Backs: Reckoning finally came for the Eagles' patchwork secondary, which was consistently beaten by Rodgers -- on third down in particular. Asante Samuel, who had seven interceptions in 2010 but none in the past 49 days, was nearly undressed on a deep pass to James Jones right before halftime. Grade: C
Special Teams: David Akers missed two field goals in a five-point loss, including a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter that kept the deficit at two possessions. It was a surprising failure for the veteran kicker, who'd made 25 of his last 27 attempts. On the positive side, Omar Gaither's heads-up of recovery of the touched punt in the first quarter should have led to points for the hosts. And when the Eagles made the questionable decision late in the third quarter to punt from the Packers 35 while trailing 21-10, Colt Anderson made a balletic play to down the ball inside the 2. Grade: C-
Coaching: Andy Reid's inability to establish the running game through McCoy may have compromised Philadelphia's chances. But it says here the Eagles just weren't good enough. Grade: B
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