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Philadelphia Eagles News

A 6-pack of storylines ahead of Eagles-Lions

Quarterback Jalen Hurts
Quarterback Jalen Hurts

With the final prep in, save for Saturday's walkthrough and the flight to Detroit, Head Coach Nick Sirianni updated the injury situation and what it means for the offensive backfield. Let's take a look at some of the key matchups for this Week 8 contest.

1. On the running back front, Miles Sanders (ankle/foot) won't play against Detroit, so rookie Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott will lead the way, and it's likely the team will add Jordan Howard to the active roster from the practice squad. Howard hasn't been active for a game all season, but Sirianni is confident Howard will be ready if called upon.

"I just see a guy that comes to work every day and does his job every day and prepares our defense. The last month or so he's been preparing our defense to get ready to play and working on his craft as a running back," Sirianni said. "And that's what pros do. They come to work every day and they do what's required of them and even more, because he's continuing to work even more out there. They're ready when their number is called."

How will the running backs have their workloads split on Sunday? We'll find out then, and in the case of Gainwell, the most carries he had had this season is nine, in the opener at Atlanta. Scott had a career-high 19 carries (for 54 yards and three touchdowns) in the final game of the 2019 regular season at the Giants. Howard, of course, was the workhorse for Chicago for three seasons before the Eagles acquired him in a 2019 trade, so there are no worries there.

2. Detroit is pulling out all the stops, and that includes pushing every bit of a trick play or an unusual formation or anything that can gain the Lions an advantage. Last week in their narrow loss to the Rams, the Lions were successful with an onside kick and two fake punts. The Eagles are well aware of the possibilities with this instruction: Be ready for anything.

"As a coaching staff, you're always going to look at the things that teams do on tape, right? But in actuality, when you run a trick play on offense, you're probably not going to run that play again because the defense saw it," Sirianni said. "That's something that doesn't pop up, but you got to go ready for it still as an offense, defense, and special teams. And then when things kind of pop up throughout a game, we call it as coaches' unscouted looks come up, you just got to be ready to play your rules on each individual play and be able to adjust when you get to the sideline on that play. And so that's just pretty standard.

"Again, just got to be ready for those unscouted looks. And we know how to handle that, because, again, when you're an offense or defense, naturally there will be things that come at you that you're not – I don't want to say ready for, but you haven't seen on tape. That's where your rules on each individual play come into place, and, again, getting back to the sideline and adjusting."

3. Remember the name: Kalif Raymond. He's a receiver for the Lions who has emerged as a weapon this season, teaming with running back D'Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson to give quarterback Jared Goff more options. Raymond entered the NFL as a non-drafted player in 2016, signing with Denver, and played with the Broncos, Giants, Jets, and Titans – mostly as a return man – before landing with Detroit in free agency. He has been a weapon for the Lions, contributing 26 receptions for 334 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 39 targets. Last week against Los Angeles, Raymond had six catches for 115 yards and he's chipped in with 12 total catches the last two weeks. Raymond is only 5-8 and 182 pounds and he has been able to do some damage in the short- and intermediate-area as well as adding a deep-play threat last week.

4. A matchup to watch on Sunday is the Eagles' wide receiver corps against Detroit's secondary, which has absorbed some heavy injury damage this season. The team's 2020 No. 1 draft pick, cornerback Jeff Okudah, ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 1 and 2021 third-round draft pick cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu is on Injured Reserve with a thigh injury. Cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs (illness) and A.J. Parker (neck) are listed as questionable, having seen limited practice time this week. The Eagles are continuing to be pleased with the progress of their three young primary receivers – DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Quez Watkins, as Sirianni noted on Friday.

"I've seen them grow and they continue to make plays," he said. "I know there is that philosophy that there is only one football and there are three guys to get the ball to in one room, but we're doing everything we can do to get them the football. We have other good playmakers as well. But definitely, it's a rarity – again, I don't want to say rarity because I don't want to put anybody down, but it's a rarity that you have three guys that you're like, 'We got to try to game plan for and get them the football.' Because sometimes in a room you're like, 'Well, we're going to game plan for this guy and the other guys are going to get their touches as they come.' We want to get these guys touches because they're all explosive playmakers. You don't do that, and you don't think that way as a coach unless they give you a reason to do that. So obviously the talent of these three guys has given us the reason to want to give them the football, but also their development.

"(Wide Receivers Coach) Aaron Moorehead has done a great job with the room of continuing to develop them through the individual drills, through his coaching philosophies, and they've done a great job of doing that themselves. They're mature players, meaning they're mature mentally because they're just working on getting better every day. That's been my experience with all three of those guys, that they're coming to work every day to get better and that's what I see and that's where I see growth."

5. Tight end Dallas Goedert leads all NFL players at his position with an 83.5 first-downs-gained percentage on his receptions this season, he's second among tight ends with a 15.9-yard average per catch and his 286 receiving yards rank fourth among NFL tight ends, despite his missing one game when he was on the COVID-19 list. "I feel like the best is still to come with me in this offense," Goedert said when we spoke this week. "I've been waiting for this time (to be the No. 1 tight end) and I plan to make the most of it, take advantage of the matchups that the coaches put me in and do whatever I can to help this team win football games."

6. Where is quarterback Jalen Hurts showing significant improvement? He's been productive, accumulating 3,115 total yards in his 11 NFL starts (ranking seventh all time for quarterbacks in that starting span) and his 361 rushing yards are second among quarterbacks this season. Here is a number that sticks out as well: Hurts has compiled a 116.5 red zone rating this season, ranking sixth in the league. His 14 red zone touchdowns, combined passing and running, rank fourth in the league. Detroit's defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, allowing a TD percentage of 84.21. The Eagles rank sixth in the NFL with a 70.83 TD percentage this season. THAT is a matchup to watch on Sunday.

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