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Lions' Front More Than A Name

Posted Dec 5, 2013

No gimmicks. The names don't matter. What has the Eagles' attention this week is a Detroit Lions front seven, and a front four in particular, that feasts upon most offensive lines in the NFL ...

There has been talk of the Wide 9 this week, a defensive alignment that features an end lined up outside a tight end's shoulder and angled toward the quarterback (nine technique, as dubbed by legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant so long ago). The media and the fans throw around the term "Wide 9" as if it is gospel, while football coaches bristle and suggest the term is nothing more than a media label.

There has been talk this week of Lions defensive tackle Ndamunkong Suh and his, uh, questionable tactics over the years that have resulted in considerable fines doled out by the league offices. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has dismissed that conversation and instead has focused on what really matters.

And what matters is that Detroit is really, really, really good up front. Suh and fellow tackle Nick Fairley dominate inside and rookie Ziggy Ansah (7 sacks) and Willie Young (3 sacks) bring it off the edges.

Yeah, yeah, yeah Jim Washburn is the assistant defensive line/pass rush specialist coach and we know that Washburn likes to have his players line up wide, that they have space to come off the ball and get up the field and that while it had mixed results in his couple of seasons in Philadelphia, the scheme is working very nicely in Detroit.

With the Lions, then, it's not about gimmicks or fancy labels or big names. It's about a tremendously talented group of players who shut down the run in suffocating fashion and who are capable of turning a game around with a swarming pass rush.

"They're outstanding," said center Jason Kelce. "What they do with the wide alignment is just what we practiced against, but they do more than that, too. They're so big and fast and talented. It isn't just Suh, either. He's part of it, for sure. He comes off the ball and is so aggressive and fast. But the Lions are more than just him."

This was a theme from last week, how the Eagles offense would face a terrific test from Arizona's front and that the game would serve as a stern test for an offensive line that has rounded into very nice form this season. The Eagles gained 307 yards against Arizona and bogged down enough in the fourth quarter to allow the Cardinals to trim a 24-7 deficit to 24-21, so the mission was accomplished. The line played a good game against an outstanding defensive front.

It will have to be even better on Sunday to score big points against Detroit's defense.

"They are a 'Wide 9' team," said guard Todd Herremans. "They like to run the gaps and get upfield. They play the run a little better than we used to (running the Wide 9). They’re very talented up front. The guys that they have play hard all game long, so I think it will be a good challenge for us.

"Their linebackers are very active. Just the way they penetrate, they take away running lanes and make the running back cut where he doesn’t want to go because that’s usually where the 'backers are."

The Eagles gave up huge chunks of yardage last year because the gaps up front as the linemen tried to run outside around blockers were not filled adequately. Linebackers and safeties missed tackles. The defense tried to tighten the alignment as the season went along, but to no avail.

This Lions defense bears little similarity. Detroit overwhelmed Green Bay on Thanksgiving with an array of pressures, from beating blockers in one-on-one situations to timing blitzes perfectly. Detroit's linebackers are strong and Louis Delmas is a headliner at safety. The "fit" is right in Detroit, and the Lions are playing playoff-caliber defense.

What do the Eagles have in mind to beat Detroit's defense?

That's the big question. That's where the genius of head coach Chip Kelly and the offensive coaching staff come into the equation. What weaknesses can the Eagles find in this defense? What matchups can the offense look to expose with formations and play calls?

"Whatever it is, we have to go out and execute," said Kelce. "We certainly have to be better in the fourth quarter of games. Our challenge is to go out and play our best 60 minutes of football against a very good defense."

To do so, once again, the offensive line has to rise to the occasion against one of the best defensive lines in the league. How do the Eagles hold up against all of that pressure?

That's the question that will be answered on Sunday. Strip away the media jargon and the fancy labels and the big names and what the Eagles see is an active, powerful defensive line it must defeat for a chance to win their fifth straight game and reach 8-5 on the season.

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