Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! The Detroit Lions have had a lot to be thankful for over the past two weeks. After a complete front office upheaval, the Lions have won two straight against two worthy opponents. The Philadelphia Eagles, on the other hand, enter Thursday's game having lost their past two games, including an embarrassing performance against the Buccaneers last week. Despite the current course of both teams, the Eagles enter as one-point favorites. Let's consult the festive charts to see who truly hold the advantage.
Lions pass offense (24th by DVOA) vs. Eagles pass defense (5th)
The Detroit Lions pass offense is doing slightly better as of lately, but is still muddling around in the mediocre range. In ten games, they've outgained defense's passer rating average three times, been held below average in four, and met averages in three.
In the past five weeks, Matthew Stafford has looked pretty good. During that span, he has averaged 280.4 passing yards, while throwing nine touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Still, this unit ranks in the lower half overall. Detroit is 25th in passer rating (83.1), t-23rd in yards per attempt (6.8) and 19th in completion percentage (63.3). They've also allowed the tenth-most sacks (26) and thrown the fourth-most interceptions (13). So while the unit has improved, it still has a long way to go to become respectable.
The Eagles pass defense was once respectable. Through seven games, this was one of the best units in the league, allowing just one offense to surpass their seasonal passer rating average. But the past three weeks have been a disaster for the unit, allowing an average of 254 yards per game and a total of 10 touchdowns and one interception. In total, offenses are averaging a passer rating of 113.8 in the past three weeks against the Eagles.
Because of their recent play, the once-great Eagles defense has plummeted into mediocrity. They rank just 16th in passer rating allowed (88.5), t-seventh in yards per attempt allowed (6.9) and t-17th in completion percentage allowed (63.9). They do still have good disruption numbers, ranking sixth in interceptions (12) and t-13th in sacks (24).
Player to watch: Fletcher Cox. Cox leads the Eagles with 5.5 sacks on the year, and with the Lions sporting a shaky offensive line, Cox could force a mistake-prone offense to turn it over to an opportunistic defense.
Advantage: Eagles +1. Despite their recent struggles, this Eagles defense still ranks highly among advanced statistics rankings. In addition to Football Outsider listing this unit as the fifth-best, Pro Football Focus still ranks the Eagles team tenth(!!!) in their power rankings. The Lions have seen some moderate success lately, but nothing too explosive. This is a team that has won scoring 18 points in consecutive weeks.
Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Eagles run defense (16th)
Yes, the Lions reached 100 rushing yards for just the second time this year. Yes, they finally got Ameer Abdullah involved again last week. But this is still a very bad running game. Despite the illusion of success last week, the Lions actually underperformed when considering how mediocre the Raiders' run defense was. In fact, Detroit ran for a full yard per carry less than the Raiders are averaging this season.
The Lions rank 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and still last in percentage of carries that earn a first down (14.5 percent). This unit still has a lot of work to do.
Like the Eagles pass defense, their run defense has seemingly fallen apart as of late. After a promising start, three of their past four opponents surpassed their seasonal rushing yard and yards per carry average against the Eagles. The Panther and Buccaneers absolutely dominated Philadelphia, combining for 487 rushing yards at 6.5 yards a carry.
Again, the struggles of late have caused the Philly defense to torpedo down the rankings. The Eagles are just 25th in yards per carry allowed (4.4), however they actually rank first in percentage of rushes allowed that earn first downs (17.9 percent). Usually when that is the case, it's a sign that their defense is typically stout, but is particularly susceptible to allowing the big play. Indeed, that is the case with this defense. They have allowed the third-most rushes of 20+ yards (nine) and the most rushes of 40+ yards (four).
Player to watch: Ameer Abdullah. The Lions finally look comfortable giving Abdullah a significant role in the run game, and that could mean Abdullah is finally ready to break out. He has good opportunity this week with a struggling Eagles defense, but he still needs to overcome a shoddy offensive line.
Advantage: Eagles +0.5. Despite their recent struggles, there are reasons to believe the Eagles run defense will prevail in the matchup. Mainly, the Lions run offense is still very, very bad. The Lions can win this matchup by busting out a few huge runs against a defense that tends to give up a lot of big plays. However, the Lions don't make big plays on the ground very often. They have just three rushes of 20+ yards (t-26th) and none of 40+.
Eagles pass offense (29th) vs. Lions pass defense (22nd)
The Eagles pass offense has been a huge disappointment all year. Whether it has been Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez behind center, Philadelphia has not been able to find any modicum of success. Only three times all year have the Eagles finished with a passer rating above 90. While they've finished with a rating below 80 six times.
Philadelphia ranks 29th in passer rating (79.7), t-23rd in yards per attempt (6.8) and 17th in completion percentage (63.7). They have also thrown the second-most interceptions (14), while throwing the seventh-fewest touchdowns (13). The moderate good news for the unit, is they have been average at protecting the quarterback, allowing just 21 sacks on the year (t-14th).
After the bye week, the Detroit Lions somehow turned one of the worst units in football to one of the best. After allowing seven of their first eight opponents to surpass a passer rating of 100 or more, the Lions somehow held two of the better pass offenses in the league well under their passer rating average. The miracle turnaround has got Lions fans praising defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, after faith was all but lost a mere three weeks ago.
Overall, the defensive numbers are still pretty ugly. Eight weeks of terrible play will do that to a unit. Detroit is still 31st in passer rating allowed (103.3), t-26th in yards per attempts (7.9) and 29th in completion percentage (68.7).
Player to watch: Jordan Matthews. Matthews leads the Eagles in receptions (55) and receiving yards (565). According to PFF, he has also run the most crossing route in the entire league, so look for Matthews to try and control the middle of the field and test the Lions' linebackers in coverage.
Advantage: Lions +1. This advantage is admittedly based on a little faith. Faith that the Lions defense has actually turned a corner and that their play in the past two weeks is more representative of the unit's talent than the previous eight games. That being said, even if the Lions aren't as good as they have been recently, the Eagles are clearly as bad as they look. The Eagles could have a respectable day passing the ball (even if it is Sanchez who dresses), but it's highly unlikely they rip apart this streaking Lions defense.
Eagles run offense (12th) vs. Lions run defense (20th)
The Eagles run game is their identity on offense. Whether the running game is working or not, Philadelphia will continue to run it anyways. And most of the time, it works just fine. In ten games, Philly has outgained defense's yardage averages in six game, while surpassing the defense's YPC average in five.
The Eagles have the eighth most rushing attempts in the league, but rank just t-13th in yards per carry (4.1). Still, they are a pretty efficient running team, gaining first downs on 26.6 percent of their rushes (third-best).
The Lions run defense is a lot better than advertised. Outside of three very bad games, the Lions have held every other opponent below their YPC season average. Again, the Detroit defense has been especially stout as of late. Holding the Packers and Raiders to just 97 total rushing yards and well under 3 yards per carry.
Like the Eagles run defense, the Lions have been victimized by allowing the long running plays. Detroit has allowed eight rushes of 20+ yards (t-seventh most), and four of 40+ yards (t-most). Despite that, the Lions are only allowing 4.1 yards per carry, good for 16th-best in the league.
Player to watch: DeMarco Murray. The Eagles' most efficient runner by a large margin, Ryan Mathews, will likely be sidelined as he continues to recover from a concussion. Mathews is averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry. Murray, on the other hand, has managed just 3.7 a carry. Murray was decent in Mathew's absence last week, tallying 64 yards on just 13 carries, but he'll have to do a lot more to win over Eagles fans.
Advantage: Lions +1. If Mathews was playing, this would be an even matchup or even may be in the Eagles' favor. But with Philly's best rusher likely sidelined, and the Lions defense really hitting its stride, all signs point to the Lions stopping the Eagles on the ground.
Trends. This game is all about the trends of each current team. While both offenses continue to look awful, the defenses are trending in complete opposite directions. The Lions, once considered one of the worst defenses in the league, have played amazing against two tough offenses in a row. The Eagles, one of the best defenses through the first half of the season, has completely fallen apart lately. If the trend continues, that's great news for the Lions.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper fell to a pathetic 5-5 last week after predicting a narrow Lions defeat, 30-20.
In the comment section, steve52 was the closest to the actual 18-12 score, with his more conventional 20-13 prediction. Here is your prize, steve52:
If you listened to this week's PODcast, you know that I dislike stuffing. I mean, what's to like? The mushy, yet somehow still stale, bread? The warm celery (the worst possible temperature to serve celery)? The general feeling of eating slop, like a pig from a trough? Or maybe the fact that the meal you're consuming was shoved inside the depths a bird no less than 30 minutes before consuming. Yet some people swear by it. I hope you like stuffing, Steve. And, please, take seconds.
This week's prediction:
The Lions come out with the narrowest of advantages: +0.5. While I don't believe in momentum (and certainly don't believe in it from game to game), it's hard to ignore the fact that these teams are heading in opposite directions. The Lions seemed to have found a formula that works on defense, while the Eagles are struggling to find any sort of consistency on either side of the ball. The Lions are also very healthy given how deep into the season it is, while the Eagles may be missing their starting quarterback, best running back, and second-leading receiver (Zach Ertz). All signs point to a three game winning streak for the Lions: 20-16 Lions.