Eagles v. Lions: What to Watch For

(This post was a jointly written by Hank and Vince)

Pictured: Calvin Johnson (left), Matthew Stafford (right), and Kyle Vanden Bosch (center)

This week, the Eagles host a Detroit Lions team that is quickly adding on to its NFL record for most losses in the Super Bowl era (411 and counting!). Despite having a roster that boasts the league’s newest 5,000 yard passer, the consensus best wide receiver/freak athlete in football, and the highest-drafted defensive tackle since Darrell Russell, the Lions entered their bye week with a 1-3 record, good for last in a surprisingly strong NFC North.

The last time these two teams matched up was Michael Vick’s first start as an Eagle in 2010. That day the Eagles pulled out a close one 35-32, with Sean McDermott’s defense getting tuned up by then-rookie RB Javhid Best (232 yards from scrimmage, 3 TD). The Lions were at a significant disadvantage that day, however, having lost Matt Stafford to injury the week before. This time, Stafford is back and Best is out.

Now for the match ups:

1. Calvin Johnson v. the Eagles secondary – While Megatron isn’t putting up two touchdowns every week like he was at this time last year, he’s still arguably the best receiver in the NFL. Through four contests Johnson has 29 catches for 423 yards and 1 TD. There are a few factors that make this the most important match-up.

First, Johnson is the Lions best player hands down. Considering their inconsistency and injuries in the backfield, this team needs to keep Calvin involved if they want to win. Second, the Eagles were terrible defending the other best receiver in the league: Larry Fitzgerald.

In their contest against Arizona, the Eagles allowed Fitz to catch 7 balls for 105 yards and a touchdown… in the first half! Schematically, the Eagles didn’t have a single corner line up on Fitzgerald, instead electing to have Asomugha and Cromartie split the duties depending on which side Fitzgerald lined up. You have to figure that Detroit’s coaching staff has watched that game one or fifteen times.

The Eagles are faced with a quandary here. Asomugha is bigger and more physical than Rodgers-Cromartie, so he’ll have a better chance of knocking Johnson off his route at the line. But Johnson’s top-end speed make this a serious mismatch on deep routes. Conversely, Rodgers-Cromartie has the speed and jumping ability to keep up with Johnson all day. But the Lions have frequently played Johnson out of the slot this year. DRC is most comfortable on the outside, and showed in 2011 that he struggles to contain receivers when he can’t use the sideline for “leverage.” Covering Calvin Johnson out of the slot is a perilous assignment.

Either way, it looks like both Eagles fans and Eagles corners will both be praying for good safety help on Sunday.

3. Ndamukong Suh v. Dallas Reynolds – Since Jason Kelce’s injury, there has been a steep decline in the Eagles offensive line play. The screen game has struggled, and the line has seemed just generally confused. In their match-up against Pittsburgh, there were too many occasions in which defenders came through untouched. As the center, Reynolds needs to do a better job of making calls for the line. He’ll also need to contain the former defensive rookie of the year, Ndamukong Suh. Suh already has 2.5 sacks in 4 games this season.

4. Kyle Vanden Bosch v. The Eagles LT (TBD) – This is a perfect match up of weakness against weakness. Whether King Dunlap or Demetress Bell is starting at left tackle for Philadelphia, they’ll be facing DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. At age 33, it appears that Vanden Bosch is slowing down. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the second-worst rated 4-3 defensive lineman in the NFL. Bell has been the Eagles worst OL this year (although Reynolds is catching up), and Dunlap has struggled with a hamstring injury. The Eagles have had success running the ball on the left side and will likely try to exploit the KVB’s weakness with LeSean McCoy. But the biggest benefit the Eagles get from this matchup is…

5. Brent Celek running more routes – Celek is one of the better tight ends in the league. He has great hands, is an above average blocker, and almost always beats the first tackler. With Vanden Bosch struggling on the left and the always-steady Todd Herremans blocking the right side, Celek shouldn’t have to stay home and block nearly as much as he has the last few weeks; and when Celek gets involved in the offense, this team is deadly.

6. Special Teams – Both Philly and Detroit are bad on special teams. The Eagles have been shuffling the linebacker position in an attempt to shore up the unit (what else is new). Brian Rolle was released for Adrian Moten and now Moten has been released for Jason Williams. We’ll see if Williams makes an impact on Sunday.

The Lions special team unit has been miserable. In four games they have allowed four touchdowns – two on punt returns and two on kickoffs.

So, for this match-up pillow fight, it will come down to who stinks the least at allowing these powerful offenses to start with good field position. The Lions have the third best offense in the league, averaging 412.2 yards a game and 25 points. The Eagles, ranking eleventh, average 383.4 yards and 16 points a game.

More notes:

– The Lions offensive line as a whole has played very well in pass protection this season, but poorly in run blocking. With Javhid Best out, Mikel Leshoure struggling, and the Eagles run defense playing as well this year as it ever did during the Jim Johnson era, expect even more passing than usual from the Lions offense this week.

– Whichever cornerback doesn’t shadow Megatron will be left covering Nate Burleson. Burleson is a steady veteran who will be targeted on short downs. Keeping him quiet on 3rd down will be key for the Eagles.

– Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew is slow but really, really big. At 6’6″ 265 lb., Pettigrew will tower over 5’11” LB Mychal Kendricks. This match up is a true test of brawn v. speed. In Pettigrew’s last game in Philly, he recorded a career-high 108 receiving yards.

Posted on October 12, 2012, in Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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