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Lions vs. Eagles preview: Can Detroit take advantage of inflated expectations for Philly?

Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation explains why the Philadelphia Eagles have high expectations in 2022, but have a reputation of struggling with increased hope.

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s finally here! Week 1 of the Detroit Lions 2022 season. It’s time to finally find out if all the hype that’s been surrounding the Lions this offseason is real. The Lions have a tall task ahead of them with their first opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Lions took on the Eagles in 2021 in what some predicted would be the Lions first win of the season. That is not at all what happened. The Lions were absolutely drubbed 44-6. It was probably their worst performance all season.

Now they face an arguably much better Eagles team. The Eagles made some big improvements to their team in the offseason. Chief among those was trading for AJ Brown and drafting Jordan Davis. Things could get dicey for the Lions.

There’s so much more that we wanted to know about the Eagles. So we reached out to our pal Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to get the scoop. Here’s what he had to say:

1. What’s the area the Eagles majorly improved upon?

“It’s tough to pick just one! Howie Roseman added a lot of talent to the Eagles’ roster this offseason. On paper, at least, one could argue they’re significantly better at the following spots: WR, EDGE, DT, LB, CB, S.

“As you can see, I mostly listed defensive positions there. There’s a lot of pressure on Jonathan Gannon to oversee improvement after Philly’s defense finished 25th in DVOA last year. Gannon did a good job of making sure the lesser quarterbacks didn’t do anything against his unit. But any passer who was at least decent absolutely shredded the Eagles.

“There’s thought that improved talent will allow Gannon to be more creative and produce high end results. He better. The Eagles added Haason Reddick, Jordan Davis, Kyzir White, Nakobe Dean, James Bradberry, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. If they merely finish as an average defense, that’s a failure. The expectation should be a top quarter of the league ranking.

“Offensively, it’s hard not to mention the impact that A.J. Brown figures to have. He was clearly the Eagles’ best player in training camp, catching everything thrown his way. Jalen Hurts is going to target him a ton this year. Brown could be really helpful when it comes to unlocking the middle of the field for Hurts, which is an area he threw to less frequently than any other quarterback in 2022.”

2. What is this team’s strength?

“The Hurts to Brown connection. I imagine the Eagles’ quarterback is going to force feed his top target until teams prove they can stop Brown.

“To a bigger point, it will be interesting to see just how pass heavy the Eagles are in 2022. They tried to be a high volume passing offense early in 2021. That didn’t go so well for them. And so they really pivoted to running the football, starting in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions. The Eagles’ run-heavy identity served them well in terms of beating bad teams in the second half in order to make the playoffs. But it didn’t allow them to even be competitive once they were in the postseason.

“The logical bet is that the Eagles will try to find more of a balance between the two extremes last year. It’s not just Brown that Hurts gets to work with, of course. Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith are also pretty good players. And the running game figures to be potent with one of the league’s best offensive lines.”

3. What is their weakness?

“The two biggest Eagles concerns entering 2022: Jalen Hurts and Jonathan Gannon.

“The feeling here is that Hurts is a high floor, low ceiling starter. Think Alex Smith or Tyrod Taylor in his prime. They’re players you can certainly ‘win with.’ But they’re just not the straws who stir the drink. They’re not ‘win because of’ players.

“Is it possible that Hurts makes a leap this season? Absolutely. He only turned 24 years old last month, he’s extremely driven to be great, he is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, he’s benefiting from continuity in the same system, etc. But it’s also very possible that Hurts largely is what he is at this point. He might be a lot closer to his ceiling than most would like to admit. And if that’s the case, well, that probably puts a limit on the Eagles’ ceiling as they try to contend for a Super Bowl.

“Hurts doesn’t struggle in the most obvious way. He’s hardly a turnover machine; he’s going to take care of the ball. But his penchant for throwing late (slowest average time to throw in the NFL each of the last two years) can cause issues. He is prone to leaving meat on the bone. He might make a solid throw for seven yards after missing a player streaking down the field for a 60-yard touchdown. Such missed opportunities won’t prove as costly against lesser teams since there will be other chances to beat them. Against the big boys, though? There’s less margin for error. The Eagles have yet to beat a high quality team with Hurts at the helm.

“Of course, that much isn’t entirely on Hurts. The Eagles’ struggles against higher quality competition can also easily be attributed to their defensive woes. Again, literally any non-awful quarterback was able to tear up Gannon’s defense last year. It was a passive unit that sat back and allowed quarterbacks to take what was regularly available to them underneath while the Eagles lined up far off the ball to prevent big plays.

While I’m not expecting the Eagles defense to be as bad again, I can’t say I have full confidence in Gannon maximizing his talent. He clearly failed to do so last year.”

4. What under the radar player should the Lions be concerned about?

“I don’t feel like I have the proper time to invest in playing fantasy football. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine that many people have Zach Pascal on their rosters. The Eagles’ perceived WR4 might be more of a WR3A or WR3B. The thinking here is the Eagles are going to use Pascal for specific matchups. If the Eagles are going up against a speedy but smaller nickel cornerback, for example, it could be the bigger Pascal who gets playing time over deep threat Quez Watkins in the slot. As a red zone threat, Pascal also figures to vulture touchdowns from the Eagles’ more high-profile targets. Pascal had a pretty good camp despite the fact he lost 16 pounds at one point due to food poisoning. While not a volume target, he could make an impact with the limited looks that he gets.”

5. Who’s winning this thing?

So, when the 2022 NFL schedule came out, I naturally made my win-loss projections for the upcoming season. And I angered many by taking the Lions to win in Week 1. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

The Eagles absolutely kicked the crap out of the Lions last year. That game finished with a rather iconic score of 44 to 6. One might be remiss to think things will go so easily for the Birds this time around. The Lions are going to be healthier and better than they were at that point. That blowout loss was not a typical result for Detroit last year despite them being a bad team. Dan Campbell is going to have his team playing hard in order to seek revenge. The Lions pull off the upset with Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark validating concerns about Philly’s secondary.

“Jameson Williams still being injured changes the equation a bit. I liked him a lot; I really wanted the Eagles to draft him before I realized Brown would be affordably available via trade.

“I also think the Eagles just have more talent when I look at the Lions’ roster. The Aidan Hutchinson addition is obviously an important one. But there isn’t a ton that Detroit has to offer that should have the Birds shaking in their boots.

“I do think the line for this game is a bit fishy. The Eagles are only four-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Given all the Eagles hype heading into this season, one would think that might be higher in Philly’s favor. Four points is hardly the largest Week 1 spread.

“Historically, by the Eagles’ own admission (read: Jason Kelce), they’re not a team that’s great at living up to high expectations. They tend to disappoint in those situations. By contrast, they’re much better as underdogs. So that’s another factor consider.

Ultimately, I’ll take the Eagles to win. But I think the game could be a little too close for comfort. Eagles win, 24 to 21.”