DETROIT --The fans fixated on the quarterback position, the star power of Michael Vick and the injured status of Kevin Kolb. It is the ideal water cooler chatter and it set the stage for the Eagles-Lions game. But now that the Eagles are here, in the final stages of prep time for Detroit, the reality is this: The Eagles have to win. Plain and simple, they have to win.
Certainly, the headline is that Vick starts his first game at quarterback since December 31, 2006 when his Falcons played the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The road he has taken since has, of course, been long and winding and extremely well-chronicled. Vick enters Sunday's game as a different person and a different quarterback. He is very capable of taking off an making an electrifying run, as he did a few times last week in the second half against Green Bay, but the focus for Vick now is to operate within the system the Eagles have had in place here for many, many years.
It is incumbent upon Vick to demonstrate that he has command of the offense in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, because the expectation is that Detroit is going to give him a lot of looks. Detroit has a physical defense and the Lions want to set the tempo against Vick, limit his mobility and pressure the pocket and force turnovers. The Eagles have not shown -- in the preseason and in the opener -- that they are handling the blitz as well as they want to handle it and defeat it.
So the first great matchup is Vick against the Lions defensive strategy, whatever that may be. Detroit is without end Cliff Avril, a definite blow. Safety Louis Delmas finished the game last week, but he has seen minimal time in practice all week. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy is working his way back from a groin injury and was limited all week in practice. Yes, Detroit's injury picture is a significant part of the game story here. An improving team, the Lions still don't have the kind of depth to compensate for so many injuries.
The Eagles offense is hoping to continue the momentum it generated in the fourth quarter last Sunday and start this game off with a bang. It is important for the Eagles to establish the line of scrimmage and that center Mike McGlynn recognizes fronts and communicates protection calls. It would also be helpful for the Eagles to achieve some kind of offensive balance and to get into an early rhythm.
I'm not going to go down the line as far as matchups go. Detroit's front four is a good one, although losing Avril is a blow. Turk McBride takes Avril's spot attacking Vick's blindside, and Winston Justice has a large responsibility. So does Jason Peters, who has a real test against Kyle Vanden Bosch on the edge.
I think the Lions are going to attack the line of scrimmage and bet that Vick can't beat them from the pocket. Detroit will try to do what Green Bay did so well: Eliminate DeSean Jackson from the offense early and then pressure the pocket and take the offense off of its hinges from the start.
On defense, the Eagles should come after backup quarterback Shaun Hill with a heavy, heavy dose of mixed looks. Sean McDermott will order up some blitzes, but he has to count on his front four to win the battle by itself, too. Detroit didn't run the ball well at all last week against Chicago handing off to rookie back Javid Best 14 times for a total of 20 yards. Hill will throw the ball up for grabs to stud receiver Calvin Johnson, who towers over every secondary. Otherwise, the Lions don't do a lot of anything fancy.
For me, this is a great chance to see what the Eagles are all about. They've got all of these kids on the roster and they play with a lot of energy and bring a no-quit attitude that should serve the Eagles well. Last week's comeback was stirring, albeit just short. Let's hope the Eagles play with that hair-on-fire urgency from the opening whistle and don't allow the Lions to get the home crowd in a frenzy.
The expectation here is that the Eagles are going to rally around Vick and each other and play an outstanding football game. There is also the expectation that a good number of Eagles fans will be on hand to lend their support, and that if the Eagles can get off well, Ford Field will very much be a pro-Eagles and pro-Vick stadium.
It won't happen just because the Eagles are rolling into town. It will happen because the Eagles know they can't afford to lose this game, that there aren't many Game 2 scenarios as vital as this one, especially with the schedule the Eagles have ahead.
Hey, we know the questions about the Eagles. How does McGlynn play now that he is in a position of leadership? Can Owen Schmitt lend toughness and some power to a ground game that couldn't convert a critical fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter against Green Bay? Is Omar Gaither going to hold up against Detroit and its running game?
What will the Eagles do against Johnson and Nate Burleson, two big, strong receivers? Can the Eagles take Hill completely off of his game and force some turnovers? And will the Eagles win special teams and dominate field position?
Questions, question. We all have a bunch of them about an Eagles team we are trying to learn more about. I want to see a team that comes out and plays desperate football, one that understands how important this game is. You wonder, with such a young roster and such a changed roster, how the Eagles will bounce back after last week.
"They've done a good job. There's been a lot of energy out there and they're coming off a physical game against Green Bay," said head coach Andy Reid. "They know they're up against another physical football team. This team, they fly around on defense and they get after you on offense. So, I think they're in the right mindset to want to play against Detroit."
It's on, then. The Eagles, when it comes down to it and we eliminate all of the headlines and the subplots, have a very important chore: Win a football game on the road and get some momentum going. Not much else matters. Just win, baby.