A new-look band of undefeated Green Bay Packers welcomes the skidding Philadelphia Eagles as Week 4 leads off on Thursday.
Playing host at the legendary Lambeau Field, the Packers (3-0) welcome the Eagles (1-2) on Thursday Night Football, starting at 8:20 p.m. ET and airing on FOX, the NFL Network and Amazon Prime.
Two of the most high-profile and highest-paid quarterbacks in the game — Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz — lead their offenses into action, but it’s the Packers defense that’s really led the way and been the most impressive entity between the two teams tonight.
As Rodgers and Wentz look to improve the passing games, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders must also contribute after previously being stymied.
While Packers receiver Davante Adams is still looking for his first touchdown, the Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery is playing for the first time since Week 1 as Philly continues to deal with injury problems.
As the Eagles look to avoid falling further behind the undefeated Cowboys in the NFC East, they must derail the undefeated Packers, who are under a new coach, being led by their defense for the first time in a long time and well on their way of returning to the playoffs after a two-season hiatus.
Here’s what to watch for during Thursday night’s Week 4 offering:
1. Can Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers get back to being Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers?
To proclaim that Aaron Rodgers or Carson Wentz is playing poorly is likely folly.
With his Packers sitting at 3-0, Rodgers has yet to throw an interception.
While the Eagles have struggled to two straight losses, Wentz — at the moment — is healthy and averaging a healthy 267.7 yards per game with six touchdowns.
Not bad, but not spectacular and that’s what’s most certainly been accustomed from Rodgers and glimpsed and further expected of Wentz.
Averaging a ho-hum 215.7 yards per game (25th in the NFL), Rodgers knows he and the offense must improve and keep up with the defense. Since the hiring of rookie coach Matt LaFleur, an ongoing storyline has been how Rodgers fits in LaFleur’s offense. It’s continuing to play out and likely been downplayed of late due to Green Bay winning. However, Rodgers’ four TDs through three games are very un-Rodgers-like and the offense is averaging only 19.3 points per game. In an NFC North in which rivals Minnesota and Chicago are manned by magnificent defenses, it might well come down to the team with the best offense emerging.
As for Philly, its offense has been better than the Packers’, but the wins have been more difficult to come by and Wentz, as the bona fide team leader, must lead the Eagles from their doldrums. His 91.2 passer rating is 19th in the NFL, his 6.8 yards per attempt are 25th and his 61.0 completion percentage is 26th. Faced with a formidable Packers defense, Wentz will not get any favors. But as he goes, the Eagles will go more than likely. In their win against the Redskins, he threw for 313 yards, three TDs and a 121.0 rating. He’s completed less than 60 percent of his passes in each of the Eagles’ losses since then and hasn’t matched the yards or touchdowns.
Thursday night is time for Rodgers and Wentz to get back to being Rodgers and Wentz.
2. The Smiths are leading a Packers defensive renaissance.
Signing high-priced and high-profile free agents has hardly been a keynote in the Packers’ game plan in prior offseasons. Hence, it was a surprise when the Packers brought in not one, but multiple big-name acquisitions.
First-year Packers Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos have each made quick and emphatic impacts during Green Bay’s start, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit has become the catalyst for success.
Linebacker Za’Darius Smith is leading the NFL with quarterback hurries (14) and second in disruptions (19), per Next Gen Stats. Linebacker Preston Smith is leading the Packers with 4.5 sacks and has contributed seven QB hits. And Amos, a safety, notched a game-clinching interception against his old team, the Bears, in Week 1.
Second in points-per-game allowed (11.7) and tops in takeaways (eight), the Packers D has yet to allow more than 16 points in a game.
It’s not just the new guard, either, as the often-overlooked Blake Martinez’ 32 tackles are fifth in the NFL.
These are different times in Green Bay with the defense leading the way and so far it’s been a winning way.
3. Alshon Jeffery is back and the Eagles can use all the healthy help they can get.
Injuries have depleted the Eagles since all the way back in the preseason when playing back-up QB for Philly became a dangerous proposition.
Getting the talented Alshon Jeffery back on the field and leading the receiving corps is a step in the right direction.
The Eagles’ only win so far — a 32-27 victory in Week 1 over the Redskins — saw Jeffery grab five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Since then, he’s been missing.
Jeffery had just six snaps in Week 2 against the Falcons and missed all of Week 3 — both Eagles losses.
Wideout DeSean Jackson (abdomen), cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring) and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot) are still out, but Jeffery will hit the field in Green Bay.
Jeffery’s return is no guarantee of an improved offense, but it’s most certainly trending that way and a good sign for an Eagles squad that doesn’t want to fall too far behind the NFC East’s front-running Cowboys.
4. Will the real Davante Adams shake his early funk?
A season ago, Davante Adams truly emerged as the Packers’ top receiving threat, the latest No. 1 wideout hauling in passes from Rodgers.
He totaled career-highs in receptions (111), receiving yards (1,386), touchdowns (13) and targets (169). So far, Adams has stumbled out of the gates. Whether the early season woes end or become season-long woes will start to come to the surface against the Eagles.
Adams’ 15 catches for 198 yards are each team-highs, but averaging five catches per game for 66 yards is hardly the production expected out of an elite receiver — which Adams most assuredly announced himself as in 2018.
Philadelphia is 29th in passing defense, so tonight is the night for Adams to get healthy production-wise.
However, the most notable sign of Adams’ lack of productivity comes as he’s scored zero touchdowns. Since 2016, Adams’ 35 receiving scores are second-most in the NFL and his 26 TD catches in the red zone are the most.
He’s only been targeted twice in the red zone so far, though. He’s caught both offerings for 16 yards, but not no trips to pay dirt have followed.
Can Adams fix his scoring funk in prime time?