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Game Preview: Eagles Vs. Lions


Losing two straight home games to Miami and Tampa Bay obviously wasn't what the Eagles had in mind, especially after that overtime road victory against Dallas. After the Cowboys' game, it looked like the Eagles were on the path toward turning the season around and climbing back into the NFC East. Now, things are a little bit more in question.

There are plenty of corrections that need to be made after the 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay last Sunday and plenty of questions for the team to answer. The Eagles don't have much time to right the ship. After a shortened week of work, the Eagles will board the team flight to Detroit and look to get back on track in front of a national holiday audience on Thanksgiving.

Detroit won't go down without a fight. The Lions started the year 1-7, fired their general manager and team president, but have since won two straight games against the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders. Their offense, with Matthew Stafford pulling the reins and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate out wide, presents plenty of challenges for the Eagles to contend with.

Of course, the last time these two teams met back in 2013, the Snow Bowl conditions limited what Detroit could do from a passing standpoint. This time around, the roof at Ford Field will guarantee that no snow will be falling on the field in Detroit.

It's the Eagles and Lions as the first course on Bird Day. Here's the preview …

- Alex Smith

The Lions visited the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in a battle of teams looking to make a playoff push in December ...

Last Time They Met

Eagles 34, Lions 20
December 8, 2013 - Lincoln Financial Field

The last time these two teams met, they did so in some of the strangest conditions ever seen in a football game played in Philadelphia. Weather reports called for light snow in the late afternoon, but a few hours before the 1 PM kickoff, nearly eight inches of thick powder were dumped upon the city. With heavy snow falling throughout the first half, the game was played on a field that was blanketed with a thick white coating.

As a result of the weather, both teams relied heavily upon the ground game, with the Lions rushing on 33 of their 58 plays from scrimmage and the Eagles doing so on 46 of their 68 plays. After a scoreless first quarter, Philadelphia fell behind by a touchdown with 10 minutes left in the first half after Nick Foles threw his first of only two interceptions all year at the Eagles' 20, setting up a short field. In the first half, the team relied heavily upon running back LeSean McCoy, handing off to him 13 times for 51 yards. In the third quarter, the Eagles gave up a 58-yard punt return for touchdown by Jeremy Ross to fall behind 14-0. But after that point, McCoy and the Eagles' offense came alive.

In the second half, McCoy rushed 16 times for a remarkable 166 yards and two touchdowns, setting a franchise record for rushing yards in a game with 217. Philadelphia scored a touchdown on five straight drives before sitting on the ball on its final possession to ice the game.

Philadelphia held running backs Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to 81 yards on 27 combined carries and limited Matt Stafford to 151 yards passing on 10-of-25 passing.

Unlike Thursday's game, in which the Eagles will go on the road looking to snap a two-game losing streak, Philadelphia's last meeting with the Lions marked the final victory of a five-game win streak. In Chip Kelly's first year as head coach, the Eagles began the year 3-5 before going 7-1 down the stretch to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East crown.

- Max Rappaport


When The Eagles Have The Ball

The Lions opened their season with seven losses in eight games, and their defense during that stretch was a big reason for their struggles. But in their last two games, they've gone from allowing 30.6 points per game over the first half of the season to surrendering just 29 combined in wins over the Packers and Raiders. If their solid play on the defensive side of the balls continues into Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles' offense will have its work cut out for it.

Over their past two games, the Lions have allowed just 97 total rushing yards on 39 attempts (2.5 yards per carry). Through the air, they gave up 586 yards in Weeks 10 and 11, but that came on 96 combined attempts. Against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Eagles' defense was more problematic than the team's offense, as the team gave up nearly 300 rushing yards and five passing touchdowns en route to a 45-17 loss. Philadelphia's offense only found the end zone twice, but it was able to gain a respectable 247 yards through the air and 136 on the ground.

Turnovers proved critical in that game, as Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions, two while the Eagles were in field goal range and another in their own red zone that was returned for a touchdown. The Lions, though, rank 21st in the league in takeaways, with 11 on the year. And in their last three games, they haven't forced a single turnover.

It remains to be seen who will start for the Eagles at quarterback this week. Sam Bradford missed Sunday's game with a concussion and left shoulder injury, but he was a limited participant in practice on Monday. If he's unable to go, Sanchez will make his second start of the season.

The Eagles could also be without running back Ryan Mathews, who missed Sunday's game with a concussion and groin injury and has yet to clear concussion protocol. Left tackle Jason Peters was a limited participant Monday because of his lingering back issue. He played on Sunday but came out of the game late, once the outcome was all but decided.

In the absence of Mathews, DeMarco Murray carried 13 times for 64 yards, Kenjon Barner rushed seven times for 37 yards, and Darren Sproles ran six times for 21 yards to go along with three catches for 38 yards. If Sanchez starts, he'll look to control the ball better than he has so far this season. On 64 pass attempts in two appearances, he's thrown four interceptions to two touchdowns with a 62.5 percent completion percentage.

After catching just seven passes for 71 yards through the Eagles' first eight games this season, Brent Celek has hauled in 11 balls for 213 yards in Philadelphia's last two games. With fellow tight end Zach Ertz being knocked out of Sunday's game with a concussion, Celek may again play a big role against the Lions.

- Max Rappaport


When The Lions Have The Ball

After a 28-19 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, one in which quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked seven times and hit six more, the Lions reshuffled their offensive coaching staff which included the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

Since quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter has taken the reins of the offensive coordinator position, the Lions have stressed the need to better protect the former No. 1 overall pick.

Two weeks ago, Stafford wasn't sacked once as the Lions stunned the Packers in Green Bay for the first time in 24 years. Last Sunday, however, Stafford went down four times in the win over the Raiders.

One of the strongest-armed quarterbacks in the league, Stafford has thrown for 2,607 yards this season, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns. However, he's also recorded 12 interceptions. Those turnovers are part of the reason why the Lions have the worst turnover differential in the league (-10).

To Stafford's credit, he has not had a rushing game to lean on. The Lions are dead last in the NFL in average yards on the ground per game. There have been 67 100-yard rushing performances this season and zero of them belong to a Detroit player. This past Sunday against the Raiders, the Lions cracked the 100-yard plateau as a TEAM for just the second time all season.

Even though the run game has struggled, the backs are potent from an all-around standpoint. Rookie Ameer Abdullah leads the NFL in both kickoff return yards and average. The Lions' starting field position is fifth best in the entire league. Theo Riddick leads the NFL in receptions by a running back with 50 for 445 yards.  Against Oakland, Riddick caught five passes for 72 yards.

Wait, what about Megatron?

After the Eagles' struggles with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson of Tampa Bay last week, Detroit rolls out Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Johnson ranks 10th in the NFL with 828 yards receiving and is one of the top pass catchers on third down with 18 this season. In his ninth NFL season, the 6-5, 237-pound Johnson is still a matchup nightmare. Tate is dangerous because he'll be moved all around the formation and even get the ball in the run game. He has 52 catches for 502 yards and a touchdown on the season.

After allowing 45 points to Tampa Bay last week, here's some good news for the Eagles. In the four games since Detroit scored 37 points in its first win of the year over the Bears, the Lions have a total of 65 points and no more than 19 in a single contest.

- Chris McPherson


Key Matchups

1. Eagles CBs Nolan Carroll and Byron Maxwell vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson is on pace for his sixth straight 1,000-yard season as he leads the Lions with 59 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, Johnson is averaging the same exact amount of yards per game (82.8) that he did a year ago.

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson will typically line up on the left side of the formation (54 percent of the time) which would be across from Nolan Carroll. The Lions will, however, move Johnson around including in the slot. Since the Lions made the change at offensive coordinator, Johnson has been targeted at least nine times in each of the past three games.

Johnson has one 10-catch game (Week 2) and one 100-yard receiving performance (October 18 vs. Chicago) on his resume in 2015.

2. The Detroit Natives (Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham) vs. Lions OTs Riley Reiff and Michael Ola

The Eagles were unable to generate pressure last week on rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who was sacked once as he threw five touchdown passes and finished with a passer rating of 131.6.

The Lions' pass protection has been porous throughout the season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked 26 times, the fourth most in the NFC. In the last four contests, Stafford has hit the deck seven times, six times, none and four times, respectively.

3. T Jason Peters vs. DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah

The NFC's sack leader is Ezekiel Ansah, who was selected one pick after Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The 6-6, 279-pound Ansah has been a consistent disruptor since his arrival in the Motor City. He had eight sacks as a rookie, followed that up with 7.5 last season and has eight so far this year.

Ansah is one of the players on the rise, while the Eagles' All-Pro left tackle is one of the all-time greats. However, Peters has battled a back injury that sidelined him for two games and forced him to exit last Sunday's loss early. Peters has been limited in training this week, so his availability is not certain at this point.

4. Eagles Special Teams vs. KR Ameer Abdullah

The last time these two teams met was the Snow Bowl in 2013 and the Lions scored two of their touchdowns on special teams plays - a punt return and a kickoff return by Jeremy Ross.

Snow won't impact this game, but a return specialist could.

Ameer Abdullah, the team's second-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, is not only a factor in the rushing game, but leads the NFL in kickoff return yardage and average. His 104-yard return two weeks ago against the Packers helped set up a touchdown and lead the Lions to a historic win at Lambeau Field, the team's first there in 24 years. Thanks to Abdullah, the Lions have the fifth best starting field position in the league after a kickoff.

The Eagles rank 10th in the league in kickoff return coverage allowing 22.9 yards per return.

- Chris McPherson



Trends To Watch

Gobble, Eagles, Gobble

The Eagles are 6-0 all time when playing on Thanksgiving Day. The most recent occasion came last season, when the Eagles ran wild against Dallas, beating the Cowboys 33-10 at AT&T Stadium.

Caging The Run Game

The Eagles' rushing defense has struggled over the past four games, allowing an average of 180 rushing yards per game during that span. They'll look to get back on track this week against the worst rushing team in the NFL, as Detroit averages just 71.1 yards per game on the ground.

Detroit Rock City

Dating back to 2004, the Eagles are 4-1 in their last five matchups with Detroit, averaging 35.6 points per game. The Eagles scored 56 points against Detroit in 2007 in a rout at Lincoln Financial Field.

- Alex Smith

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