Ea­gles’ D aims to send Rodgers pack­ing

Birds’ de­fense in­tends to send Rodgers pack­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA >> With apolo­gies to Aaron Rodgers and his corn­ball in­sur­ance com­mer­cials, no one comes into the Ea­gles’ house with­out pay­ing the price.

The Birds are 4-0 at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field thanks largely to the crowd noise, a fierce pass rush and the en­ergy all of it cre­ates.

“We have a big ad­van­tage at home when teams have to go on a silent count,” said Ea­gles de­fen­sive end Con­nor Bar­win, who has reg­is­tered three of his four sacks at the Linc. “That’s a big ad­van­tage for us up­front as a D-line. It gives us a jump on the cadence. We’re an at­tack front so if we can re­ally get that ex­tra step and that jump it makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Then there are the Green Bay Pack­ers and Rodgers, who op­pose the Ea­gles here Mon­day (8:30 p.m., ESPN, Chan­nel 6, WIP 94.1-FM).

The Pack­ers (4-6) are freefalling, their four-game los­ing streak adding to the scru­tiny of head coach Mike McCarthy and gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son. That duo should hold off on big ticket pur­chases for awhile con­sid­er­ing the Ea­gles’ dom­i­nance at home.

Rodgers nonethe­less sounds obliv­i­ous to the dan­ger lurk­ing ahead. He told me­dia cov­er­ing the team he felt the Pack­ers could run the ta­ble.

To do that the Pack would have to start with a win over the Ea­gles (5-5), who are a tad more rel­e­vant in the hunt for a play­off berth.

“It’s def­i­nitely a big game for both teams,” Rodgers said. “Their divi­sion, ob­vi­ously Dal­las is play­ing re­ally well. Us, we’re two games back right now … This time of year you’ve got to be mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. We’ve got to turn this streak around and get go­ing back in the right di­rec­tion.”

The Ea­gles have de­stroyed teams at the Linc, outscor­ing them 108-38. In just four games the de­fense has reg­is­tered 15 sacks and eight take­aways.

Play­ers typ­i­cally deny look­ing at the stand­ings and the teams ahead of them in the play­off chase. Others are open and hon­est about it.

Ea­gles cor­ner­back Leodis McKelvin, back in the lineup af­ter a mild con­cus­sion, noted that the three out­comes the Ea­gles needed to hap­pen on Thanks­giv­ing oc­curred. The Dal­las Cow­boys (101) de­feated the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins (6-4-1) and the Detroit Lions (7-4) beat the Min­nesota Vik­ings (6-5). The Cow­boys ba­si­cally have the divi­sion wrapped up, mean­ing the Ea­gles are chas­ing the New York Giants (7-3), who won Sun­day, as well as the Red­skins.

“We con­trol our own des­tiny,” McKelvin said. “We’ve just got to go out there and win. We’re un­de­feated at home. We’ve got six games left. We’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we have some con­trol. Com­ing out with this home crowd, it’s go­ing to be crazy. We’re just go­ing to come out and do what we’ve got to do to give the fans what they want … a win.”

The al­ter­na­tive for the Ea­gles would be rolling into Cincin­nati, where they’ve never won. The Ea­gles are 0-3-1 there, the in­fa­mous tie com­ing there in 2008, then quar­ter­back Dono­van McNabb com­plain­ing that he thought there would be a sec­ond over­time.

Rest as­sured Rodgers knows the over­time rule. He’s been known to crank up a game-win­ning desperation pass or two.

Though the Pack­ers’ de­fense is strug­gling — the out­fit get­ting scorched for 47 and 42 points in con­sec­u­tive weeks — Rodgers, even when he’s re­quired to play catch-up, poses a tough chal­lenge for any de­fense.

“He’s run­ning to throw,” Bar­win said. “But he def­i­nitely has al­ways had the ca­pa­bil­ity to pull it down and run. You’re play­ing so much cov­er­age and there’s some man-to-man sit­u­a­tions where ev­ery­body’s backs are turned and it’s all right there for him to run. We’ve seen that on tape. And he’s a smart guy. He rec­og­nizes that man cov­er­age and when the rush breaks down and there’s a big gap he’s go­ing to take ad­van­tage of it.

“I think they’re still run­ning the ball but they’re miss­ing Ed­die Lacy.”

The Ea­gles have in­juries of their own, start­ing at run­ning back where Ryan Mathews (knee) is out and Darren Spro­les is play­ing with a flak jacket to pro­tect a cracked rib. That leaves Ken­jon Barner and rookie Wen­dell Small­wood to do the heavy lift­ing.

“I’m go­ing to em­brace it,” Small­wood said. “It’s a chal­lenge and it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for me to take ad­van­tage of it and show what I can do and show I can take on a big­ger role. I def­i­nitely think I’m that kind of run­ning back that gets bet­ter and starts to wear them down. I think I just get com­fort­able, that’s all it is. My first cou­ple car­ries are just feel­ing it out. Once I start to slow it down and get those runs go­ing, I think I’m bet­ter.”

The Green Bay pass de­fense has be­come in­creas­ingly vul­ner­a­ble to deep throws. The in­jury sit­u­a­tion is so fluid the depth chart is ever-chang­ing.

Jor­dan Matthews, who leads the Ea­gles with 53 re­cep­tions for 639 yards and three touch­downs, an­tic­i­pates rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz tak­ing chances throw­ing deep down the field.

“I know the Red­skins went ver­ti­cal” against Green Bay, Matthews said. “I think right now, teams have made an em­pha­sis to go ver­ti­cal on them. They do have some young cor­ner­backs who are get­ting bet­ter as I’ve watched games. At the same time, we have to go out there con­fi­dently and say when we have these chances to take shots, we’ve got to roll the dice and we’ve got to go make them … and build con­fi­dence.”

On the drama front, Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son has said he’ll wait un­til game time to de­cide whether to ac­ti­vate em­bat­tled wide re­ceiver Nel­son Agholor and rookie wide re­ceiver Paul Turner … or both.

That might not be as big of a fac­tor as the pass rush get­ting af­ter Rodgers, who works the pocket bet­ter than any quar­ter­back.

“You can al­ways look at a game and say what­ever de­fense plays bet­ter is go­ing to win,” Bar­win said. “So we want to be the bet­ter de­fense Mon­day night.

“It’s a huge game. Mon­day night at our sta­dium, a lot on the line, we’re wear­ing all-black uni­forms. Ob­vi­ously there’s a lot to be ex­cited about.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE

Ea­gles de­fen­sive end Con­nor Bar­win (98), shown sack­ing Giants quar­ter­back Eli Man­ning, said that crowd noise at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field gives the Birds an ad­van­tage against op­pos­ing de­fenses.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers is con­fi­dent the Green Bay Pack­ers can save their sea­son in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment against Philadel­phia on Sun­day, a team that hasn’t lost at home.

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