Five Days to Kickoff: 5 Packers-Eagles Keys to Game

Among this week's keys: The return of Zach Ertz and the Packers' excellent play against opposing tight ends.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers rookie Jon Runyan grew up around the Philadelphia Eagles. That was the team for which his father, Jon Runyan Sr., played nine stellar seasons. A standout lineman at Saint Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, Runyan Jr. owned a Zach Ertz jersey, among others, his father recalled.

So, with Corey Linsley out, it’s somehow fitting that Runyan’s first NFL start figures to come on Sunday against the Eagles.

While the Eagles are sputtering along at 3-7-1, their defense is strong. It is anchored by the man in middle, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox has been picked for five consecutive Pro Bowls. He has a sack in each of the last four games, the longest streak in the NFL.

Runyan had a tough go against Indianapolis’ DeForest Buckner a couple weeks ago. He was much better last week against Chicago, though the Bears didn’t have a lineman the caliber of Buckner or Cox.

That matchup is the first of this week’s five keys.

2. Zach Back to Face Pack

Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz has missed the last five games with an ankle injury. The expectation is he’ll be back in the lineup to face the Packers.

Ertz, a Pro Bowler each of the last three seasons, caught 75-plus passes the five seasons spanning 2015 through 2019. That includes an eye-popping 116 receptions in 2018 and 88 more last season. However, while he caught 74.4 percent of targeted passes in 2018, that fell to 61.1 percent in 2019 and only 53.3 percent in 2020, when he’s tallied 24 receptions in four games.

Green Bay has allowed only 38 receptions to tight ends – the third-fewest on a per-game basis.

The Eagles’ offense has been a major disappointment all season, starting with the play of quarterback Carson Wentz, who is at or near the bottom of the league in passer rating, interceptions and completion percentage. Perhaps the return of Ertz will be just the ticket for a team that ranks 25th in scoring.

“Offensively, I think we've battled a lot with injury, a lot of different moving parts up front with the offensive line, a lot of guys in and out. We just haven't had the consistency and the continuity that you would like week in and week out,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after the loss to Seattle. “You look at offenses around the league that have stayed together and stayed healthy and there is continuity there, there is consistency, and we just haven't had that this season. We don't make excuses for it. It's where we are and we have to get better.”

3. Can They Run?

It’s no coincidence that the Packers’ offense was exceptional against Chicago. The 41-point outburst coincided with the return of the running game. The Packers averaged 4.7 yards per carry vs. Chicago compared to 3.5 the previous three games. With the running game rolling, Aaron Rodgers threw three play-action touchdown passes.

The Eagles’ run defense is stout. They are ninth with 4.1 yards allowed per carry for the season and have been even better of late, with a 3.4-average the last three game and 2.5 last week against Seattle.

4. Going the Extra Miles

Green Bay’s run defense remains frustratingly inconsistent. On the opening series on Sunday, Chicago’s David Montgomery shot through an enormous hole, the byproduct of what appeared to be a missed assignment by rookie linebacker Kamal Martin and a bad angle by linebacker Christian Kirksey, and gained 57 yards.

A miscue like that against Miles Sanders will turn into a touchdown. Among running backs, he’s second in the league with 5.6 yards per carry. Green Bay’s defense, on the other hand, is 25th with 4.6 yards allowed per carry.

Interestingly, Pederson ignored Sanders on Monday night. Sanders had six carries and two receptions against the Seahawks. It’s hard to imagine Pederson would make the same mistake twice.

5. Rise to Challenge

It would be easy for the Packers to look past the Eagles, who have dropped three straight after victories over fellow NFC East lightweights Dallas and New York got them into the thick of the comedic division race.

Playing down to the competition bit the Packers against Minnesota and almost bit them again against Jacksonville. With so much on the line in terms of the chase for the No. 1 seed, the Packers can’t afford any letdowns.