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Scouting the Pack vs. Eagles: Look out for Finley!

TE Jermichael Finley has emerged as the most uncoverable receiver in the NFL…

Eagles home opener is Sunday (4:15 p.m. EST, Fox TV) against one of the most intimidating offenses in the NFC…The Green Bay Packers feature a lot of weapons on offense to worry about, including the blossoming QB Aaron Rodgers, but none provides more anxiety to me than TE Jermichael Finley (6-5, 247, 3rd year, Texas)…

For the first nine games of 2009, Finley was a rotational player and sustained a midseason knee injury. The Packers averaged 25.8 points in those games. When he came back from the injury, Finley took on a more prominent role, and for the final seven games and playoffs, the Packers averaged 33.8 points.

With Aaron Rodgers just moving into his prime years at age 26 and his third season as an NFL starter, there’s every reason to think the Packers will be even better than the offense that finished last season ranked No. 6 in the NFL in total yards and No. 3 in points (behind only New Orleans and Minnesota).

But a healthy and extremely ambitious Finley adds a whole new dimension of defensive game planning for the Eagles.

You’re going to see some things done by the Eagles’ defense expressly designed to stop Finley. They’re going to try to challenge him, take him out of his game… The Pack will go into the game expecting it and will counter-move to adjust to it on the fly.

Problem is, Finley lines up all over the field, often as a third wide-out…

Defenses traditionally were designing their schemes to try to stop one Packers receiver, Greg Jennings, from beating them. The mismatches Finley now creates lining up all over the field and stretching defenses down the middle-seam means opponents will have to go out of their way to slow two playmakers. That puts enormous stress on a defense and improves the lot of all the Packers’ skill-position players.

“The more weapons you have, the better your ratio of run-to-pass maybe,” said Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator, in a recent interview with Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay PressGazzette. “You might be able to get into three wideouts, and they’re so worried about three wideouts you might be able to run the ball better. Or you might get into two tight ends, and they’re so worried about the run game you can throw the ball better. So you’re looking to create indecision on the defense.”

Finley and company will create an immediate and difficult entrance exam for the young Eagles defense. And Finley appears ready to become an elite player and is a big reason why the Packers could be one of the two or three most explosive teams in the NFL this year.

Other Packers on offense to keep an eagle’s eye on for this game:

The Offensive Line… For one, Mark Tauscher will be the starter at right tackle from Day 1 — last year, Allen Barbre was a liability there in pass protection. Also, T Chad Clifton is relatively healthy after being slowed by a recurring ankle injury for much of last season, and first-round pick Bryan Bulaga appears to offer a superior alternative as backup at that critical position to anyone the Packers put on the field last season.

RB Ryan Grant… last year, Grant rushed for 1,253 yards and a 4.4-yard average and will get the overwhelming majority of carries for a third straight season if he stays healthy. He hasn’t missed a game the past two years, though he sustained a concussion in the preseason that sidelined him for one day of practice.

Backup RB Brandon Jackson… Jackson has become a proficient pass protector as a third-down back… but hasn’t been the runner the Packers projected when they selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft (4.0-yard career rushing average).

The Eagles’ big defensive hope is they can get the kind of pressure on Rodger’s aging line protection that led to a slow start for Green Bay last season and a ton of early season sacks. Hard to remember right now, but this potent Pack offense got off to a 4-4 start last season. Ah, memories…