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Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles preview: On Paper

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We delve into the matchup between the Lions and Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

We’re only in Week 5, but we’ve already reached the depressing portion of On Paper. As the season wears on, we slowly lift the veil of each team to see what is the true nature of each franchise. After only four games, we can pretty much see the Detroit Lions for what they are: a team with a horrible defense and an inconsistent offense. We’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but that’s all you really need to know about Detroit.

The Philadelphia Eagles, on the other hand, are still a tad of a mystery. They had a bye in Week 4, meaning we only have three data points for them so far. But from what we’ve seen early on, this team could be very good.

Given that information, it is a shock to see the Eagles are only three-point favorites on the road. Is Vegas ready to hand out free money or is there something we’re all overlooking? Let’s take a look deeper into the matchup.

Lions pass offense (13th) vs. Eagles pass defense (1st)

You know how I called the Lions offense inconsistent? Well, consider this Exhibit A. Matthew Stafford had two amazing day against the Packers and Colts—and really only for the second half against the Packers—and was ineffective against the Titans and completely locked down in Chicago.

When this offense wants to be good, they’re very good. They rank fifth in completion percentage (66.7) and t-10th in yards per attempt (7.7). But their inconsistencies have pushed the team passer rating down to 14th (93.9), and their 10 sacks allowed are tied for the 10th most in the league.

There’s a lot about the Eagles team to question whether it is legit or not, but Philly’s smothering pass defense is the least likely to be fool’s gold. Not only do the Eagles rank first in DVOA defending the pass, but they also rank third in passer rating allowed and t-fourth in completion percentage allowed, and they have yet to give up a single passing touchdown in three games. Considering their first two opponents—the Bears and the Browns—that isn’t completely surprising, but their shutdown of the Steelers thriving offense bring legitimacy to this group.

Player to watch: Brandon Graham. The defensive end out of Michigan has a sack in each of his three games so far this season, setting him on a pace to blow his previous high of 6.5 sacks on the season out of the water.

Advantage: Eagles +1. While my confidence in the Lions offense was shaken last week against the Bears, I still believe they will challenged this staunch Eagles defense. However, even at his best, Stafford has really struggled against elite defenses and I think that trend will continue on Sunday.

Lions run offense (11th) vs. Eagles run defense (10th)

While I want to remain positive about the Lions running game, the unit has taken a very obvious dive since Ameer Abdullah was lost to a foot injury that landed him on the injured reserve list. The Lions have averaged just 58 rushing yards per game with Theo Riddick as the starting running back, and although they played a tough Packers defense over that time, their performance against the Bears hints at a huge dropoff in talent.

Overall, the Lions’ raw numbers are still pretty high thanks to the strong start to the season. They’re still averaging 4.2 yards per carry (t-11th) and are earning first downs on 25.0 percent of carries (t-eighth). However, the Lions will have to prove they can run the ball without Abdullah to keep those number high for the rest of the season.

Because the Eagles have been leading for the majority of their games, it’s not that surprising to see their opponents have so few rushing yards. But this defense is legit based on the YPC they are allowing. They’ve held all three opponents at or below their YPC average, but because of that good Browns rushing attack, they are allowing 4.3 yards per carry on the season, good for just t-20th overall.

Strangely, however, this defense is also allowing 28.6 percent of rushes to earn first downs, the third-worst percentage in the NFL. So although that chart looks intimidating, it could be a little misleading. With so little information to go on, I would still consider this run defense to be up for judgement. Let’s call them above-average for now.

Player to watch: Zach Zenner. It looks as though rookie Dwayne Washington will really have to fight his ankle injury to be available on Sunday. Zenner is more likely to take his place, and while the Lions will still probably give most of the carries to Riddick, Zenner is probably good for around 10 touches this game and will be motivated to do the most with them.

Advantage: Eagles +0.5. I don’t suspect this matchup will make much of a difference, because the Lions won’t likely be rushing much and even if they do, they probably won’t put up 100 yards on the ground. I think it’s much more likely that Detroit runs the ball about 17 times for 70 yards or so.

Eagles pass offense (1st) vs. Lions pass defense (32nd)

It’s not often that the charts disagree with Football Outsiders so drastically, but in this case they do. Football Outsiders has Philly with the best passing offense in the league according to their DVOA statistic. However, the chart paints a pretty different picture. While the yardage statistics are fairly meaningless this early in the season, Carson Wentz’s passer rating looks to be good, but not great. He had an average performance against the Bears, a slightly above average game against the Browns and a great game against the Steelers. Obviously, that’s way above expectations for a rookie, but let’s pump the breaks on crowning him as the next elite young quarterback; his career is still in its infancy.

Overall the Eagles rank t-13th in yards per attempt (7.5), 16th in completion percentage (64.7) and fourth in passer rating (103.8). There is no doubt in my mind this is an above average passing offense, but I’m not exactly ready to crown them as a top-five unit at this point.

But I am officially ready to declare the Lions’ pass defense as a bottom-five unit. Detroit has failed to hold any quarterback below a 100 passer rating, despite the fact that none of these quarterbacks are averaging a rating of 100 on the season. They’ve made Marcus Mariota look like a Pro Bowl quarterback and somehow created a quarterback controversy in Chicago between Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler.

Through four games, the Lions have allowed the second-most passing touchdowns, while nabbing just one interception. They rank last in passer rating allowed (120.3), 26th in yards per attempt (8.1) and 31st in completion percentage (70.7).

Although the Lions rank t-12th in sacks (nine), pass rush has been a huge problem. The loss of Ezekiel Ansah has limited the Lions efficiency at getting to the passer, even though Kerry Hyder ranks second overall with 5.0 sacks.

Player to watch: Zach Ertz. Ertz was one of the best tight ends in the league in 2015. Now healthy enough to return to action in 2016, Ertz could be in for a huge day against the Lions. Detroit has had issues covering tight ends, due to their depleted linebacking corps. Ertz is a nightmare matchup for the Lions defense as it stands right now.

Advantage: Eagles +4. This matchup screams disaster on every level. The Lions haven’t been able to stop anyone on defense, and while the Eagles haven’t been explosive on offense, they have been incredibly efficient. Ertz’s return only makes this matchup even worse. I’d be shocked if the Lions can hold the Eagles below a 100 passer rating this week.

Eagles run offense (14th) vs. Lions run defense (31st)

The Eagles’ weakest unit is their running game. Through three games their leading rusher is Ryan Mathews with just 104 rushing yards. For comparisons sake, Ameer Abdullah has 101 yards, despite only playing 1.5 games.

This week, it’s not exactly clear who the Eagles will push out as their primary running back. Mathews is dealing with an injury of his own, though he practiced in full on Wednesday. Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner have done well in spot duties (averaging 4.8 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively), but neither has much experience as a workhorse back in the NFL.

This year, the Lions run defense has been unusually awful. While the Lions have struggled defending the pass for quite some time now, their run defense is typically stout. Through four weeks, however, they’ve been one of the worst units in the league.

They currently rank 30th in YPC allowed (4.8) and 26th in percentage of rushes earning first downs allowed (26.0). Strangely, the Lions are one of two teams yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Of course, considering the Lions are a complete sieve in the passing game, that isn’t all that surprising.

Player to watch: Antwione Williams. The fifth-round rookie returned to action last Wednesday, but did not look very ready. He showed some confusion in the passing game and had some tackling issues, as well. The Lions will need a lot more from Williams and the rest of the linebackers if they want to stand a chance against the Eagles.

Advantage: Eagles +2. While the Eagles aren’t that prolific at running the ball, the Lions are undoubtedly horrible at defending it. There’s little reason to think that will change this week.

Last week’s prediction:

Like everyone else at Pride Of Detroit, On Paper was way off in its prediction for the Bears game. Not only did we miss on the winner of the game, but the shootout that we were all expecting never came to fruition. On Paper is now 2-2 straight up and 2-1-1 against the spread.

In the comment section, we didn’t really have anyone close to the 17-14 final score. The closest prediction came from Seven11 who added 10 to each team with his 27-24 prediction. He is a Bears fan, so he doesn’t get a prize. STAY OUT OF OUR CONTESTS, BEARS FANS.

This week’s prediction:

The Eagles come out with a huge +7.5 advantage, which by On Paper standards is blowout territory. As I mentioned earlier in the week, it is hard to find a matchup that favors the Lions right now. The only hope for Detroit is that we still know very little about the Eagles and they could be a lot worse than they are letting on. I think that may be true for Philly’s offense, but unfortunately they are playing the worst defense in the league this week, so I wouldn’t expect us to learn much about them on Sunday.

Philly’s defense will be enough to keep the Lions offense off balance and could cause a lot of frustration on Detroit’s sideline. This one should be ugly, and it could get ugly fast. Lions 13, Eagles 34.