The Detroit Lions have only one more shot to pick up their first victory under head coach Dan Campbell before the bye week. Going into the break without a win would be pretty darn frustrating, even with all the feelgoodery still around the franchise.
Luckily for Detroit, there looks to be a winnable game this week. The Philadelphia Eagles are losers of five of their last six games, and there appears to be a bit of dysfunction among the franchise. Coaches are getting called out by veteran players, and the dynamic offensive-minded, up-and-coming head coach is already starting to feel the pressure of early failure and a not-so-hot offense. Mix it all together with a quarterback who isn’t making a great case to be the team’s franchise passer of the future, and the opportunity is there.
But will the Lions take it? Let’s take a closer look at our Lions vs. Eagles preview, On Paper.
Lions pass offense (27th in DVOA) vs. Eagles pass defense (19th)
Despite what I believed to be Jared Goff’s best game of the season, he still managed to fall below the Rams’ passer rating allowed average thanks to two late interceptions. He has now fallen below those averages in five of seven games and has failed to surpass a passer rating of 80 in three straight games.
Now, it’s fair to point out that the Lions have faced some pretty tough defenses as of late, but it’s just as fair to say that Goff is not playing great, and his rapidly declining receiving corps isn’t helping much, either.
Overall, the Lions rank 26th in passer rating (84.7), 27th in yards per attempt (6.5), and just 17th in completion percentage (65.9) despite attempting the shortest passes, on average, in the NFL. Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that the Lions' pass protection has not been great lately. Their sacks allowed percentage is 5.8, which ranks 17th in the NFL, while they rank 26th as a team in PFF’s pass blocking grade and 23rd in ESPN’s pass block win rate.
Of course, you can certainly chalk some of that up to missing your two best offensive linemen in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow.
Don’t be too fooled by that left column. The fact that the Eagles are giving up a low amount of yards through the air can be easily explained by the Eagles’ next chart. That being said, this can be a pretty respectful pass defense at times and a pretty awful one at other times.
This is a pretty tough defense to read. They haven’t been rushing the passer particularly well this season (27th in pressure percentage, 29th in sacks). Their secondary is pretty solid, led by Darius Slay and nickel corner Avonte Maddox, but their linebacking corps is an absolute mess. In other words, it’s kind of a perfect matchup for the Lions. The Eagles can cover on the outside—where the Lions are weakest anyways—but are vulnerable up the middle and short. Hello, T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift.
Overall, the Eagles rank 25th in passer rating allowed (103.0), 12th in yards per attempt allowed (7.1) but dead last in completion percentage allowed (74.4). All that underneath stuff has been killing them.
Player to watch: Javon Hargrave. Despite the Eagles’ subpar pass rush, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave sticks out as a counterexample. He has 6.0 sacks on the season and a 90.1 PFF pass rushing grade. This week, he’ll mostly line up over Jonah Jackson, who did a reasonably good job against Aaron Donald last week (until he didn’t).
Advantage: Eagles +1. I do think this matchup plays well into the Lions’ hand. Detroit loves long, dink-and-dunk drives to play keep away from the opposing offense and maintain a fairly risk-averse passing attack. But here’s the problem, this strategy hasn’t worked. At some point during these long, methodical drives, the Lions do something to absolutely kill themselves, whether it be a penalty or a turnover. The Eagles’ bend-don’t-break strategy may actually work in Philly’s favor, because this Lions offense does a whole lot of breaking on their own.
Lions run offense (25th) vs. Eagles run defense (29th)
If I were measuring based on the eye test, I would paint a much rosier picture of this Lions rushing attack. The run blocking on this team, in my opinion, has been very good all year, but PFF ranks them just 13th in the NFL. Jamaal Williams has been the most consistently good player on the offense and he’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but D’Andre Swift is averaging just 3.4.
Part of the problem is the Lions’ lack of explosive plays on the ground. They have just three rushes of over 20 yards, and one of those is from Goff.
But I continue to believe that this rushing offense could be, at worst, middle of the pack if they could just stick to it. In fact, it should be considered a bit of a win for this running game to still rank 22nd in rushing yards despite trailing by two scores in literally every game this season.
Still, Detroit ranks 19th in yards per carry (4.2) and 15th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (26.1). For now, let’s call them below average, but not by much.
The Eagles are not ceding many passing yards this year, because they’re giving up a whole lot on the ground. Every team they’ve faced this season has surpassed 100 rushing yards against them, and that includes two of the worst rushing attacks in the Falcons and Raiders. And while their YPC numbers look promising based on the chart, let’s take a look at the leading rushers in each of the “green” games.
49ers: Elijah Mitchell: 17 rushes, 42 yards (2.5 YPC)
Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott: 17 rushes, 95 yards, 2 TDs (5.6 YPC)
Panthers: Chuba Hubbard: 24 carries, 101 yards (4.2 YPC)
Bucs: Leonard Fournette: 22 carries, 81 yards, 2 TDs (3.7 YPC)
Outside of the 49ers game, it’s hard to call any of those “wins.”
Overall, this defense ranks eighth in yards per carry allowed (4.1), but 23rd in percentage of rushes earning first downs (26.0) and 29th in PFF’s run defense grade.
Player to watch: D’Andre Swift. Sunday felt like a breakout game for Swift in the passing game (eight catches, 96 yards, 1 TD), but he’s still figuring it out on the ground. With a weak linebacking corps, this could be the week he finally breaks one—although the Eagles' secondary is filled with solid run defenders and Philly hasn’t allowed a rush of over 26 yards this season.
Advantage: Lions +2. I expect to see the Lions run the ball a ton in this game, assuming they can keep it close. Last week, we saw what a successful running game can do: keep the opposing quarterback off the field, and therefore keep the game close late. I think that’s exactly what Detroit will do in this game, and considering they’re facing a weaker opponent, it could end in a better result.
Eagles pass offense (23rd) vs. Lions pass defense (27th)
The Jalen Hurts era has been an up-and-down one thus far. On the surface, it looks like he went toe-to-toe with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr, and Dak Prescott, but Eagles fans will be quick to tell you that a lot of the Eagles’ passing success has come in garbage time. The Liberty Line has a nice breakdown of Hurts’ stats by situation (missing last week’s stats) and shows that Hurts has seven touchdowns down by one score or more, but only two while leading. Additionally, 1,220 of his 1,716 passing yards have come while behind.
That being said, it’s not like Hurts is playing particularly poorly. his 79.1 PFF grade is actually 17th in NFL, though that is modestly boosted by his threat as a rusher.
The Eagles have a fairly decent receiving corps, too, in rookie DeVonta Smith, slot receiver Quez Watkins and tight end Dallas Goedert. And as I mentioned in my scouting report, the Eagles’ offensive line ranks top 10 in several advanced statistical categories.
They have the parts of a successful passing attack, but it’s just not there yet. This is why the Eagles’ coaching staff has come under fire.
The Lions’ pass defense is fighting tooth and nail each week, but the injuries have just been too much to keep them in games. The Lions’ secondary has been decimated, and they’re certainly missing their best pass rusher in Romeo Okwara. Detroit’s defense is young and improving, but they’re still pretty darn bad.
The Lions still rank dead last in passer rating allowed (114.5) and yards per attempt (9.5). Even their pressure stats are starting to fall, as they rank 21st in pressure percentage (22.9) and t-18th in sacks (14).
Player to watch: Quez Watkins. He’s not quite a household name yet, but the Eagles 2020 sixth-round pick has been Philly’s most pleasant surprise this year. Watkins has been the Eagles’ big-play specialist, averaging 19.3 yards per catch and leading the team with seven plays of 20+ yards. With Lions nickel corner AJ Parker likely out this week, this could be the mismatch the Eagles exploit on Sunday.
Advantage: Eagles +2. It will be tough for the Lions to generate pressures against this offensive line, which means they’ll have to rely on their secondary to hold the Eagles in check. That is a problem.
Eagles run offense (8th) vs. Lions run defense (21st)
The Eagles haven’t run the ball a ton this year—they rank 26th in rushing attempts—but when they do, they’re pretty frickin good at it. They’ve rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry in every game this year and over 5.0 YPC in five of seven games. Obviously, those stats are boosted by Hurts’ mobility, as the quarterback leads the team in rushing yards (51.6 per game) and YPC (5.5).
But the Eagles’ rushing attack goes beyond that. The Eagles offensive line is a top-10 run blocking unit and Miles Sanders has averaged 4.8 yards per carry behind them. Of course, it looks like Sanders will miss this week with an ankle injury, but the Eagles have rookie Kenneth Gainwell, who has rushed for 4.6 yards per carry on 26 attempts, and they could very well promote Lion-killer Jordan Howard from the practice squad this week.
Overall, the Eagles rank fifth in yards per carry (5.0) and second in percentage of rushes earning first downs (30.5). If they could just commit to the run, they’d be considered among the best rushing attacks in the league.
The Lions’ run defense is likely their biggest strength right now. It has been pretty inconsistent week-to-week, but they’ve now held three straight opponents under their YPC average, including a breakthrough performance last week against the Rams. It’s worth noting, too, that the Lions have faced some pretty good rushing attacks, with all but two opponents averaging 4.2 YPC or more for the season.
Perhaps most important to this week’s matchup, the Lions have done a solid job containing mobile quarterbacks this year. Lamar Jackson had 58 rushing yards against the Lions, but 31 of that came on one early rush. Justin Fields was a complete non-factor on the ground.
Player to watch: Jason Kelce vs. Alim McNeill. A three-time All Pro, 11-year veteran vs. a rookie. McNeill has played relatively well this season, but this could be a pretty big mismatch.
Advantage: Eagles +1. This is a tricky one. The Lions, I think, are better than most statistics show, but their inconsistencies scare me. The Eagles are clearly a pretty good unit, but, again, coaching appears to be holding them back, and there are some questions how they’ll respond with Sanders out. Detroit has done a good job in their very small sample size against mobile quarterbacks, but I just have a little more confidence in the Eagles rushing attack right now.
Last week’s prediction
I don’t feel too bad about my 35-10 Rams prediction, even if it was pretty far off from the 28-19 final score. My biggest swings and misses were surrounding each team’s running game, where the Lions dominated on both sides of the ball. That, in part, explains why I may be a bit overconfident in those units this week against the Eagles.
In the comment section, I thought the winner again may come from the POD staff, as Jerry Mallory’s prediction of 30-17 Rams was darn close to the final score. But he was bettered by a single point by critical perspective, who predicted a 30-20 final score in Week 8. That means I have to use my own creative juices for this week’s photoshop prize. Congratulations, CP. Consider handing these out on Sunday:
This week’s prediction:
The Eagles come out with a narrow +2 advantage. It’s a tough pill to swallow considering how down on the Eagles most people are, but here’s the bottom line: The Lions just aren’t good at anything right now. They’re improving, yes. They’re measuring high in all the intangibles like grit and heart and motivation.
But this preview is about the tangibles. And looking at this roster and each individual unit, it’s clear the Eagles are still the better team. It’s not by much, and I certainly give Detroit a real chance at winning this week—especially if I factor in coaching here—but ultimately I have to pick Philly here. Eagles 20, Lions 16.