This week, the Detroit Lions head to Philadelphia for an NFC matchup against the 3-2 Eagles. The Lions are fresh off their bye and looking to put their slow start behind them. The Eagles are coming off a tough loss to the Steelers on a last-second field goal. This is a big game for both teams, with the Lions needing a win to keep their head above water, and the Eagles needing to stay atop the tight NFC East.
Lions Pass Offense (2nd) vs. Eagles Pass Defense (13th)
*Matthew Stafford + Shaun Hill
It may come as a surprise to most to see the Lions' chart so green. But the defenses the Lions have played so far have turned out to be pretty solid. The biggest surprise is easily the Rams defense, which is holding opponents under 220 yards and a 67 passer rating.
But the news isn't all good. The Lions only rank 15th in passer rating (88.0) and 16th in yards per attempt (7.3). And as I noted previously, Stafford just seems to be missing some open receivers lately. Maybe it's an over-reliance on Calvin Johnson, maybe he's still growing and learning to properly read defense, but whatever it is, it needs to improve quickly.
The Eagles provide a pretty tough matchup this week. Aside from the Cardinals, no opponent has surpassed their yardage or passer rating averages against the Eagles. They also rank fifth in passer rating allowed (69.3), third in yards per attempt allowed (6.1) and second in completion percentage allowed (53.6 percent).
If there's any good news for Lions fans, it's the Eagles' lack of pass rush. The Eagles only have seven sacks in five games (29th). That's a pretty surprising statistic, given the Eagles' strong secondary. You would think with such a strong back four the defensive line would have more time to get to the quarterback, but that clearly hasn't been the case.
Player to watch: Titus Young vs. tight coverage. The Eagles cornerbacks like to play physical and that isn't exactly Young's forte. Keep an eye on him and see if he eventually gets frustrated or if he can finally rise to the occasion.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. It's hard to give the Lions any advantage in this matchup against one of the best pass defenses in the league, but despite their struggles, the Lions remain an elite pass offense. The Lions will obviously need to cut down on the mistakes and convert on more red zone opportunities, but the talent is there.
Lions Run Offense (24th) vs. Eagles Run Defense (12th)
That looks pretty ugly, but in truth, the Lions running offense has been pretty average. If you take a closer look at the numbers, the Lions were very close to every average in the chart, but often just out of the five percent range of the average. Overall, they rank just 26th in yards per carry (3.6), but they have been efficient, gaining 21 first downs on the ground (ranks 24th overall, but second-most among teams that have played four games). The biggest issue with the Lions running game has been the lack of big plays. The Lions are one of only four teams with no rushes of 20 or more. Paging: Mr. Best.
The Eagles run defense hasn't exactly been stellar this year. Except for a strong game against the Giants, every opponent surpassed their yards per carry average against the Eagles, and three of five gained more yards than they typically do. The Eagles have given up the sixth most rushes of 20+ yards (five) but are 13th in yards per carry allowed (3.9).
The Eagles are particularly stout in the red zone, only allowing one rushing touchdown all year.
Player to watch: DeMeco Ryans. According to TeamRankings.com, Ryans leads the team with four tackles for loss. Ryans is basically the Stephen Tulloch of the Eagles. He's there to stop the run and quarterback the defense.
Advantage: Push. In reality, a push is probably a small advantage for the Lions, knowing that running the ball is a possibility against the Eagles. If the Lions can manage any success on the ground, it would be huge for remaining balanced on offense and keeping the defense on its toes. I see Mikel Leshoure racking up around 70 yards and maybe a score.
Eagles Pass Offense (13th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (10th)
That's a whole lot of inconsistency. One week, Michael Vick is lighting up the scoreboard against a tough Ravens defense, the next he's completely stymied by the Cardinals.
Overall, the Eagles rank 24th in passer rating (77.8), 18th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 23rd in completion percentage (58.4 percent). In other words, they're a below average passing team, even taking into consideration the tough defenses they've played.
Of course, I haven't even mentioned the Eagles' biggest problem on offense: turnovers. Vick threw six interceptions in the first two weeks (none since) and has fumbled the ball eight times this season already, which is a record-setting pace.
The Lions finally got on track against the Vikings in Week 4, but the overall stats remain ugly. The Lions currently rank 26th in passer rating allowed (101.3), 18th in yards per attempt (7.4) and 26th in completion percentage allowed (66.1 percent). Most shocking of all, perhaps, is that the Lions only have nine sacks through four games, ranking them just 16th in sacks per game.
Player to watch: Louis Delmas. Assuming he's playing this week, Delmas could be the "x-factor" for the game. In my film breakdown, I pointed to the importance of safeties when blitzing Vick, and I expect Delmas to assume that role.
Advantage: Eagles +0.5. I really think Delmas adds a spark to the Lions this week. His presence will be felt more in containing Vick than it will in coverage, but against the Eagles, that's half the battle. Unfortunately, the Lions corners remain pretty awful, and it'll be up to them to prevent the long ball from the likes of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Eagles Run Offense (10th) vs. Lions Run Defense (13th)
The Eagles sport one of the best run offenses in the league. LeSean McCoy ranks sixth in the league in rushing yards and is averaging a solid 4.5 a carry. And, of course, there's Vick. Together the Eagles rank eighth in yards per carry (4.4) and have five rushes of 20 or more (T-6th). But, combined, Vick and McCoy have 11(!) fumbles (seven lost).
Well, look at that. The Lions have held all of their opponents below their rushing yards averages and three of four below their yards per carry average. However, the two teams they have faced with an excellent rushing attack were able to rack up plenty of yards. So while those teams were technically held below their average, the Lions didn't exactly shut down the opponent.
Still, the Lions clearly have a pretty strong run defense. They rank just 17th in yards per carry allowed (4.1), but they have only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards (T-5th). Again, the return of Delmas could be huge here, as he is just as effective (possibly more) in run defense as he is in coverage.
Player to watch: McCoy. A bit obvious, but McCoy is a threat every time he's on the field. He especially likes to look for cutback lanes. The Lions ends will need to resist their over-pursuing tendencies or McCoy will turn runs that look like they're stopped in the backfield into explosion plays.
Advantage: Eagles +0.5. The Lions have been solid at holding teams below their averages, but not by a ton. Further, teams with solid running games haven't really been stopped by the Lions. The Eagles have one of the better rushing attacks in the league, but with disciplined play (I know that's a lot to ask for) and the return of Delmas, the Lions certainly have a shot at holding the Eagles in check.
Lions "Special" Teams. It's no secret that the Lions have had one of the worst special teams coverage units through the first five weeks. They've given up four touchdowns and have looked absolutely terrible in general. The good news is that the Eagles are averaging just 19.6 yards a kick return (longest: 29 yards) and 6.0 per punt return (longest: 13).
Turnover party. The Eagles are averaging a whopping 2.8 turnovers per game, led by Vick's 11 turnovers. The Lions are giving the ball away 1.5 times a game. Neither team is particularly strong at forcing turnovers (Eagles: 1.4 a game, Lions: 0.8), but with all the mistakes both teams have made so far, I wouldn't be surprised to see more than five total turnovers in this game.
Again, the Lions appear to be the underdog as the Eagles come out with a small +0.5 advantage. In my four years of doing these previews, I don't think I've ever seen two teams match up so perfectly. The Lions' strengths (pass offense, run defense) match up against the Eagles' strengths (pass defense, run offense). Same with the weaknesses.
I think this game comes down to a few key plays. The Eagles are prone to turn the ball over, but the Lions have made plenty of mistakes on their own. If either team cleans up their act, they will undoubtedly win, but this may be a case of whoever makes the most egregious errors loses the game. It's going to be close, it's going to be hard to watch and in the end, I think it's going to put the Lions at 1-4. Eagles 27, Lions 24.