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Game Preview: Eagles Vs. Lions


It's time to get back to work.

After three straight wins to start the season, the Eagles' bye came in Week 4, and while the bye gives the players a chance to recover from a very physical Training Camp, preseason and first three weeks, Eagles fans can't wait to see the team back on the field. Throw in the fact that the last matchup with Detroit left a bad taste in their mouths, and there's certainly plenty of intrigue for this Sunday's game against the Lions (1 PM, FOX).

At 3-0, the Eagles have been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL. The dominating win over Pittsburgh the last time out put the Eagles on the national map, with quarterback Carson Wentz and the offense firing on all cylinders and the defense locking down the Steelers' high-powered offense for a full 60 minutes. Fletcher Cox's two sacks helped him win NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors, as he and the defensive line collapsed the pocket on almost every single dropback.

The Eagles' defense will need to be at its best once again on Sunday against quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions. In last season's meeting on Thanksgiving, the Lions hung 45 points on the Eagles, with wide receiver Calvin Johnson catching three touchdown passes. It was a game to forget for the Eagles, but you can be sure they'll remember it this time around.

The Lions' 2016 season hasn't started the way they hoped. With Johnson abruptly retiring during the offseason, the team knew there would be a huge void to fill on the offense. Free agent Marvin Jones Jr. has stepped in nicely, with 482 yards and two touchdowns to start the year, but the Lions have sputtered to a 1-3 start. They'll look to get back on track following a tough loss on the road to Chicago in Week 4.

Sunday's game will be a true test of just how far the Eagles have come as a team since last November. Here's the preview ...

- Alex Smith

Last Time They Met

Lions 45, Eagles 14
*November 26, 2015 – Ford Field *

Thanksgiving 2015 is a day most Eagles fans would be happy to forget.

Coming off consecutive losses to Miami and Tampa Bay, Philadelphia was ready to turn the page and get back to winning. However, the team's Week 12 matchup in Detroit wouldn't be the time for that.

The Eagles started the game without quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Zach Ertz, both of whom were unable to dress due to injuries. When halftime rolled around, they were down two more starters in tackle Jason Peters and cornerback Nolan Carroll, and were losing the game by 17 points.

From there, the Lions' offense exploded. Quarterback Matthew Stafford ended the game with 337 passing yards, five touchdowns and a 137.8 rating. Three of the five touchdown passes were to Calvin Johnson, who came on strong following Carroll's departure. For much of the second half, rookie Eric Rowe was left to cover the wide receiver and Stafford made the Eagles pay for that decision. Johnson racked up 93 yards on eight receptions before the afternoon was over.

In total, the Eagles' defense gave up 430 yards of offense and 45 points to Detroit. Things weren't much better on the other side of the ball though, as the Philadelphia offense managed only 14 points. Jordan Matthews and Brent Celek both came up with the touchdowns, but the two scores wouldn't be enough for the Eagles that day.

The Lions' defense also continuously got to quarterback Mark Sanchez, sacking him six times and forcing a fumble. The turnover gave Detroit the ball at the Philadelphia 14 and four plays later, it resulted in yet another Lions' touchdown.

When the clocked ticked to zero and the scoreboard read 45-14, the Eagles left the Ford Field with a lot questions and a bad taste in their mouths. The 2016 Eagles are hoping for a much different outcome this time around.

- Julie Bacanskas


When The Eagles Have The Ball

Since Teryl Austin took over as the defensive coordinator in 2014, the Detroit Lions rank among the top teams in yards allowed, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for loss among other statistical categories.

But that's not the case thus far in 2016.

With former first-round pick defensive end Ezekiel Ansah sidelined with an ankle injury and outside linebacker DeAndre Levy battling a quad injury, the Lions rank 20th or worse in total defense, rushing defense, pass defense, red zone defense, third-down defense and points allowed.

The Lions have generated just one turnover all season, an interception, while the Eagles are the only team in the league not to have given the ball away.

Ansah was third in the NFL with 14.5 sacks, but has missed the past two games. He did not practice at all last week. The same goes for Levy, who has played in just two games since the start of the 2015 season.

In Ansah's absence, first-year defensive end Kerry Hyder has emerged as a pass-rush threat with five in the first four games. He's second in the NFL only to Denver's Von Miller. In the middle of the defensive line, Haloti Ngata, the longtime Baltimore Raven, is still a three-down player in his 11th NFL season. He's played the most snaps of any Lions defensive lineman and has 1.5 sacks this year.

At middle linebacker, Tahir Whitehead leads Detroit with 31 tackles and has been on the field for every Lions defensive snap in 2016. However, Whitehead has struggled in coverage this year (more on that in the Key Matchups). Former second-round pick Kyle Van Noy starts at outside linebacker along with rookie Antwione Williams.

Daruis Slay has emerged as the Lions' top cornerback, and in the loss to Chicago he recorded his first career sack off a blitz. Slay has predominantly lined up on the left side of the formation this season. Slot cornerback Quandre Diggs struggled last Sunday with Chicago's Eddie Royal, who had seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles' slot receiver Jordan Matthews is quarterback Carson Wentz's go-to target on the year with 15 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

Lions safety Glover Quin has a knack for being a ballhawk. He has 15 interceptions since joining the team as a free agent in 2013, tied for the second most in the NFL.

The Eagles will have their opportunities against the Lions. It will be interesting to see how sharp the offense is coming out of the bye week.

- Chris McPherson


When The Lions Have The Ball

Coming off their third consecutive loss of the season, the Lions will try to get back on track this Sunday against the Eagles. But, facing the Philadelphia defense is going to be a challenge in itself.

Offensively, Detroit has played well, averaging 376 yards and 23.8 points per game. The team has truly excelled in the passing game as Matthew Stafford has thrown for the fourth-most yards in the league (1,198) through the opening four weeks. The quarterback has posted a 93.9 rating and thrown seven touchdowns.

The Lions are also managing just fine without wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired following the 2015 season. Marvin Jones, a free agent signing during the offseason, has emerged as the top target for Stafford. He's currently No. 2 in receiving yards in the NFL, behind Atlanta's Julio Jones, with 482 and is averaging 21 yards per reception. The Lions' wide receiver also has two touchdowns on the year.

The area where Detroit has struggled more so is the run game. It's averaging only 92.3 yards on the ground each outing, which ranks 22nd among all teams in the league. Currently, running back Theo Riddick, who is also a big part of the Lions' passing game, leads the way with 122 rushing yards on 39 carries. However, in terms of yards per carry, other than Stafford's 8 yards per rush average, Ameer Abdullah is ahead of the pack with 5.6 yards per attempt. And he's on Injured Reserve with a foot injury.

Already struggling in that area, the Lions will need to work even harder facing the Eagles' defense, which has only allowed an average of 71 rushing yards each game. The unit ranks third best in league in that category. As a whole, the Philadelphia defense has dominated to start 2016, performing even better than some experts may have anticipated headed into the season. It's allowing an average of only nine points each game, No. 1 in the NFL, and 274.3 yards per game, which ranks third in the league.

The stakes will also be higher for a few members of the Eagles' defense, as Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham will both return to their hometowns for this matchup looking for a much different outcome than 2015. Furthermore, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will be headed back to face Detroit for just the second time since serving as the Lions' head coach. In 2014, as the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Schwartz's players allowed only 14 points en route to a victory. This Eagles' defense will look to finish with a similar result on Sunday.

- Julie Bacanskas

As the Eagles prepare to face off against the Detroit Lions for the first time since Thanksgiving 2015, we take a look at some of the key players they must contain in order to secure a win this year.

Key Matchups

1. RB Theo Riddick vs. LB Jordan Hicks - Theo Riddick gashed the Eagles in the pass game last Thanksgiving. With the loss of Ameer Abdullah due to a foot injury, Riddick is now the primary ball carrier instead of just a pass-catching option.

At 5-9, 201 pounds, Riddick is small for an every-down, between-the-tackles running back. He leads the Lions with 122 yards rushing, but on just 3.1 yards per carry. And 21 of those yards came on a touchdown run, his longest play of the season to date.

Riddick is second on the team with 20 receptions, the most by an NFL running back to this point, so the Eagles still have to account for him in the pass game. Last year, the Eagles did not have Jordan Hicks for the Thanksgiving showdown. Hicks has played the second-most snaps of the linebackers this season and will be responsible for tracking Riddick out of the backfield. The Eagles didn't game plan properly for Riddick last season. Don't expect that to be the case again this year.

2. Eagles Tight Ends vs. LB Tahir Whitehead - According to Stats Inc., the Temple product and starting middle linebacker has allowed 22 receptions this season in coverage and four touchdowns. Both totals are the second highest in the NFL.

The Lions, as a whole, have struggled to defend tight ends. A tight end has scored a touchdown in each of the Lions' four games this year. Per Football Outsiders, tight ends average 72 yards per game against Detroit.

Enter the Eagles' trio of tight ends which will be healthy for the first time all season. Trey Burton missed the season opener with a calf injury, and Zach Ertz was sidelined for the past two contests with a rib injury. Burton caught his first NFL pass last year in Detroit, and is tied for third on the team in targets in his two games.

3. Eagles Special Teams vs. Returner Andre Roberts - The Bears had the win over the Lions all but wrapped up last Sunday until Andre Roberts returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It is the longest punt return in the league this season. Chicago recovered the onside kick to seal the win, but the Eagles were already victimized in Week 2 on Eddie Royal's 65-yard punt return touchdown in Chicago.

- Chris McPherson

Trends To Watch

0 – The Eagles are the only team in the NFL to have zero turnovers through the first month of the season. The Lions' defense, meanwhile, is tied for last in the league with just one forced turnover on the year.

18 – The Lions have allowed 18 touchdowns to opposing tight ends in their last 20 games, including six in just four games this season.

92.3 – The Lions rank 22nd in the NFL with an average of just 92.3 rushing yards per game. Conversely, the Eagles' defense ranks third in the NFL, allowing just 71.0 rushing yards per game on average.

19.7 – The Lions lead the league with average of 19.7 yards per punt return. Andre Roberts returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the Lions' last game in Chicago.

- Alex Smith

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