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Game Preview: Eagles-Lions

Will the Eagles rest well during their bye week or will the sting of back-to-back losses linger throughout the mini-getaway? That's what's on the line for the Eagles as they welcome in the Detroit Lions before recharging their batteries for the final 10 games of the season. Of course, the Lions will have plenty to say about the outcome themselves, as they're fresh and healthy after coming off their own bye week. It's been a disappointing start to the season for the Lions, who sit at 1-3 one year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

In many ways, this is a must-win game for the Lions. Already in last place in the division, they trail the 2-3 Green Bay Packers by a half-game and the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears by three-and-a-half games. If they fall to 1-4, it could very well be too big of a hole for the Lions to dig out of. As if there as any more need for motivation, the Lions have internally rallied around a recent article that quoted an anonymous general manager as saying the team lacked motivation. So make no mistake, the Eagles will be getting a full effort from their opponent come Sunday afternoon, and it should make for a great afternoon of football in South Philadelphia.

For the Eagles, meanwhile, the job has become simple. Protect the football and let everything else take care of itself. The defense has made significant strides and looks to be among the best in the league. The offense has been moving the ball with relative ease, only to be snakebitten by what has become a serious turnover problem. On the bright side, the Lions rank tied for last in the league with only three takeaways on defense, all of them fumble recoveries. So once again it may come down the Eagles staying out of their own way, and if all goes well, it should make for a restful week off.

Last Time They Met:
September 10, 2010 – Eagles 35, Lions 32

It was the game that won Michael Vick the permanent starting quarterback job for the Eagles. In his first start at quarterback in four years, Vick showed that he was back to his dynamic self, throwing for 284 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 108.0. LeSean McCoy also ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Two days later, Andy Reid would make the announcement that sent shockwaves through the league – Vick was his quarterback.

When The Eagles Have The Ball:
When the Eagles line up at the line of scrimmage on Sunday afternoon, they'll see something very familiar on the other side of the ball: the so-called wide-nine. Though Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn will tell you that "wide-nine" is a misnomer, whatever you call that defensive line alignment was perfected in Tennessee when Washburn worked alongside Jim Schwartz, who was the Titans defensive coordinator at the time. Schwartz, like Washburn, took that defense to Detroit, where the Lions have made getting upfield their priority. So a full summer's worth of practices against the Eagles' defensive line should prepare the offense well for what to expect on Sunday afternoon.

Specifically, the Lions feature a feared tandem of defensive ends in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, who have accounted for 3.5 sacks in four games. In the middle Ndamukong Suh, who has 2.5 sacks to his own credit thus far in 2012, usually pairs with Corey Williams, though Williams is a question mark heading into Sunday because of a knee injury. The linebacking corps is stead, led by Stephen Tulloch with Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy on the outside. In general, the Lions defense has gotten a bad rep because the team ranks 26th in points allowed per game. But several of those touchdowns have come by the special teams or defensive touchdown variety. In fact, the Lions rank ninth in the league in yards allowed per game.

However, the book on the Lions is that they can be vulnerable in the secondary. Free safety Louis Delmas is a quality player, but Erik Coleman, the other safety, is a bit of a journeyman. On the outside, veteran Chris Houston and rookie third-round pick Bill Bentley are the starters. As a team, the Lions rank 18th in the league in yards allowed per pass play and they'll certainly be tested by the speedy tandem of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. According to Football Outsiders, where the Lions defense struggles most in pass coverage has been against the tight end, where they rank 27th in the league. That could mean a big day for Brent Celek, who has actually topped 1,000 receiving yards over his last 16 games.

Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)
Lions Eagles
Record 1-3 3-2
Points Scored Per Game 25.0 (T-11th in NFL) 16.0 (31)
Total Yards Per Game 412.3 (3) 383.4 (11)
Rushing Yards Per Game 90.2 (24) 132.2 (10)
Passing Yards Per Game 322.0 (2) 251.2 (13)
Points Allowed Per Game 28.5 (26) 19.8 (10)
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 315.8 (9) 307.2 (8)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game 102.8 (13) 100.4 (12)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game 213.0 (10) 206.8 (9)
Turnover Ratio -3 (T-21) -7 (T-30)

When The Lions Have The Ball

The triggerman for the Lions is former No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford who is coming off of one of the greatest seasons by a Lions quarterback in team history. In leading the Lions to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, Stafford became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to top the 5,000-yard passing plateau to go along with 41 touchdowns. Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the league and a quick release as he shook off criticisms of his ability to stay healthy last season.

The go-to receiver in the offense is wide receiver Calvin Johnson (a.k.a. Megatron), who led the league with 1,681 receiving yards and was second with 16 touchdowns in 2011. Johnson is a huge target standing tall at 6-5 and weighing in at 236 pounds. The scary thing is that he'll work not just on the outside, but in the slot as well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has shadowed the other team's best receiver in recent weeks, but the Eagles will keep rookie Brandon Boykin in the slot showing a lot of trust in the young player.

Also helping Stafford is tight end Brandon Pettigrew, another former first-round selection. Last year, Pettigrew set the team record for most catches by a tight end in a single season with 83. In the season opener this year against St. Louis, Pettigrew had six catches for 69 yards. In the Lions' last game, he had seven catches for 67 yards in the loss to Minnesota.

To off-set the passing attack, the Lions have tried to establish the ground game and have had some success with second-year man Mikel Leshoure, who missed all of his rookie season with an Achilles injury. He made his NFL debut in Week 3 had 100 yards on the ground and a touchdown. However, the big back (6-0, 227 pounds) was hampered by a groin injury and followed up that sterling debut with 26 yards on 13 carries and a lost fumble.

Up front, the Lions are used to the wide-nine technique having seen it from their own defense. Led by left tackle Jeff Backus, the Lions have allowed just nine sacks in 195 pass plays (4.62 percent) which is good for seventh in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, the Lions rank sixth in the sack-per-pass-play category. Even though the Lions aren't known for a stellar rushing attack, they have allowed just 17 total negative offensive plays (sacks and tackles for loss), which is tied for fifth-best in the NFL.

After not registering a sack in the past two games, this week's challenge isn't any easier for the Eagles.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Michael Vick LDE Jason Babin
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Derek Landri
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT Demetress Bell WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Mychal Kendricks
RG Danny Watkins LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Todd Herremans RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson FS Kurt Coleman

Key Matchups

Eagles DL vs. QB Matthew Stafford

The Eagles defense will face another tough test Sunday in quarterback Matthew Stafford. Last season, the Lions quarterback entered rarified air, becoming only the fourth quarterback in history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. This year, however, has not started off as well. Through four games Stafford has thrown only three touchdowns, good for next-to-last among starters. Despite this, Stafford has thrown for 1,182 yards and has been remarkably hard to bring down, having been sacked only nine times.

Opposing him will be the Eagles' vaunted defensive line. After finishing last season tied for the league lead in sacks with 50, the Eagles have only seven on the year. They have also been held without a sack for two games. Teams have been scheming against the Eagles' defensive ends by leaving extra blockers in to slow them down. To get back on track this week, the line must create more pressure and bring down Stafford.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. WR Calvin Johnson

A year after leading the NFL in receiving yards with 1,681, Calvin Johnson (a.k.a. Megatron) continues to be the go-to weapon for Stafford. Despite the Week 5 bye, Johnson is among the conference leaders with 29 receptions and 423 yards in 2012. However, he has been held to just one touchdown after scoring 16 in 2011.

In recent weeks, Rodgers-Cromartie has been shadowing the opposing team's best receiver. Expect this to continue Sunday against Johnson. So far this season, "DRC" has been everything he showed during Training Camp and more. Through five games, he has allowed just 43 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, according to Stats Inc. He also has yet to surrender a touchdown and has three interceptions.

The last time Rodgers-Cromartie faced Johnson was in 2009 as a member of the Cardinals. It was a memorable game for the corner, as he notched two interceptions and kept Johnson to three catches for 35 yards. Rodgers-Cromartie will look to duplicate that success by using his physicality and speed to shut down Johnson.

Lions Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Matthew Stafford LDE Cliff Avril
RB Mikel Leshoure DT Sammie Hill
TE Tony Scheffler DT Ndamukong Suh
WR Nate Burleson RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch
LT Jeff Backus OLB Justin Durant
LG Rob Sims MLB Stephen Tulloch
C Dominic Raiola OLB DeAndre Levy
RG Stephen Peterman LCB Chris Houston
RT Gosder Cherilus RCB Bill Bentley
TE Brandon Pettigrew SS Erik Coleman
WR Calvin Johnson FS Louis Delmas

Players to Watch

WR DeSean Jackson

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been the Eagles' most prolific receiver in the early portion of 2012 as he ranks among the league leaders with 24 catches for 391 yards. Even with a gaudy 16.3 average yards per catch, Jackson has also worked the short and intermediate routes while becoming a go-to receiver in the red zone. Against the Lions in 2010, Jackson had 135 yards and a touchdown.

DT Ndamukong Suh

The former No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, starting right defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh already has 16.5 sacks in his young career. An All-Pro selection in 2010, Suh has recorded at least a half a sack in four of his last five contests. The 6-4, 307-pound Suh will be a test for the interior of the Eagles' offensive line. The Lions, much like the Eagles, utilize the wide-nine technique and throw waves of defensive linemen at the opposing quarterback.

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