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Spadaro: Last year's Lions matchup means nothing

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

Don't allow yourself to think about the past when it comes to Sunday's Eagles' regular season-opening game in Detroit. How the Lions have performed in the past and the result of last season's Eagles' win in Detroit don't apply here. The truth is, that the Eagles were a playoff team in 2021 doesn't apply to 2022.

New year. New NFL. That's just the way it is.

And so the Lions are a team heading in the right direction. In Head Coach Dan Campbell's first season, the Lions lost a series of close games (19-17 to Baltimore, 19-17 to Minnesota, 28-19 to the Rams) before it all came crashing down in Philadelphia's 44-6 win in Week 8. That was the low point in the season, because after that Detroit tied Pittsburgh and then narrowly lost to Cleveland and Chicago before winning its first game of the season against Minnesota to kick off a 3-3 close to the campaign.

Now? Detroit had the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and chose game-changing defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who has drawn rave reviews in Detroit this summer. A later first-round pick, wide receiver Jameson Williams, was the highest-rated at his position heading into the draft and, while he won't play in Week 1, is expected to be a dynamic player at this level.

The Lions have bought into Campbell's intense, impassioned, and physical pitch.

So, yes, this is a very different Detroit team than the one the Eagles played last season. Here are some things you need to know about the Lions as Sunday (1 PM, FOX) comes into focus ...

1. While the Eagles celebrate having a standout second-year wide receiver in DeVonta Smith, the Lions feel the same way about Amon-Ra St. Brown, who became a larger part of the Lions' passing game following the loss to Philadelphia. St. Brown finished the season with at least six receptions in each of the final eight games and he was named the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month in December and set Detroit rookie records with 90 catches and 912 yards for the season. St. Brown did a lot of his damage out of the slot last season and he bears watching on Sunday. It's going to be intriguing to see how the Eagles match up against him, a bigger inside body at 6-feet, 202 pounds.

2. Detroit has put together quite a talented group of pass catchers around quarterback Jared Goff, so the Eagles are preparing for a significant challenge. It's not just about St. Brown. The Lions added D.J. Chark, who missed all but four games last season playing with Jacksonville and then signed with Detroit in free agency. At 6-foot-4, Chark is a big target who had success in his four seasons with the Jaguars. Tight end T.J. Hockenson had 10 catches for 89 yards on 11 targets in the game against the Eagles last season. D'Andre Swift is a dual-threat running back whom the Eagles in 2021 limited to five receptions and 24 yards, a key to their strong defensive performance. Swift has stated that his goal is to gain 1,000 yards both as a runner and a receiver this season.

3. About Goff, now in his second season with the Lions. He finished last year with 11 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions in the final five games. Detroit has a new offensive coordinator in Ben Johnson, and the word out of Detroit is that the focus has been on tailoring the offense toward Goff's strengths. Detroit feels like its offensive line can be among the league's best – more on that in a moment – so the Lions are striving for balance. Pause one moment for intrigue here – the Lions haven't made public who will call the plays, hoping to keep the Eagles guessing in their week of preparation and throughout the day on Sunday.

4. Former Eagle and now starting Lions right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been placed on Injured Reserve and will miss four games, ruining the Lions' hope that they would have their starting five offensive linemen ready for the regular season. Otherwise, Detroit's line is a good one with Taylor Decker at left tackle, Jonah Jackson at left guard, Frank Ragnow at center, and Penei Sewell at right tackle. This is a strength-against-strength matchup with the Eagles feeling that they have upgraded their front seven significantly since last season ended. The Eagles added Haason Reddick in free agency, welcomed back Brandon Graham from injury, and retained Derek Barnett. Oh, and the Eagles used a first-round draft pick on tackle Jordan Davis. Who wins in the trenches will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game.

5. Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn has the Lions playing in a 4-3 front with a more aggressive, attacking style and they want to move Hutchinson up and down the line. The Eagles must prepare to see him on the edge and over center Jason Kelce. A big part of what the Lions will want to do involves trying to displace Kelce and a lot of what they want to do takes advantage of what Hutchinson does at the freakish size of 6-7, 265 pounds. He's long and lean and has a lot of power and speed and the Lions want to take advantage of his versatility up front. Detroit managed just 30 quarterback sacks last season, a number they clearly want to improve.

6. A great question is how the Lions match up against Eagles wide receivers Smith and A.J. Brown, along with tight end Dallas Goedert. The Lions are hopeful that ultra-talented cornerback Jeff Okudah, who missed all but one game last season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon, will make an impact. He missed significant time in his rookie season in 2020 because of a core muscle injury. You could see the Lions playing a lot of man-on-man defense on Sunday and that would be a tall task given the talents of Smith and Brown on the outside with Goedert inside.

7. What kind of crowd to expect on Sunday? Ford Field is closed, of course, so it's going to be loud. There will likely be a large contingent of Eagles fans in the house (thanks, fans!), but it will be a home-field advantage for the Lions, who have had losing seasons at home since going 4-4 there in 2017.

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