Eagles - Lions Preview: Wentz is No Turkey
The last time the Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) played the Lions (1-3); Detroit carved them up like a turkey on Thanksgiving......literally on Thanksgiving, last year. Of course, much has changed since last season, so that game hardly even matters. The Eagles changed their coaching staff and quarterback and the Lions had their best player, Calvin Johnson, retire. Now the Eagles travel to Detroit to play in their dome on Sunday.
Let's take a look at two teams heading in opposite directions early in the 2016 season.
Eagles Offense Versus Lions Defense
Carson Wentz has been the darling of the NFL the first month of the season, but the Eagles offense is only ranked 13th overall (369.7 yards per game) and 18th (250.3 ypg) in passing. Some of that has to do with the fact that the Eagles got the lead and ran the ball to kill the clock in their first three games. But let's not forget Wentz is still a rookie. Luckily for him, this week's matchup against the Lions means he will be facing the 25th ranked (386.2 ypg) overall defense and the 21st ranked (271.8 ypg) pass defense. Wentz has completed 66-of-102 passes for 769 yards, 5 TDs and 0 INTs, for a 103.8 passer rating. Wentz just needs to continue to not turn the ball over, which shouldn't be a problem against a Lions defense that has one lonely interception on the season.
The Eagles don't have any wide receivers that opposing defenses have to fear, so it will be good for them to get TE Zach Ertz back from his rib injury this week. That will finally allow the Eagles to use their 3 TE offense they talked about all preseason. If the Lions counter that set with a base defense, the Eagles can spread them out with receiving TEs Ertz, Trey Burton and even Brent Celek. If the Lions counter with a nickel defense, the Eagles can run the ball. In either scenario the Eagles have the advantage, since the Lions can't cover TEs. Detroit has allowed at least one TD to opposing TEs in each of the first four weeks. Some of that is due to the continued absence of LB DeAndre Levy, who is expected to miss this game as well. Detroit's secondary is average at best, so you might even see a good game from an Eagles WR, like Jordan Matthews. But not Josh Huff. He still stinks.
The Eagles offensive line has done a good job of protecting Wentz this season (only 4 sacks allowed) and it looks like RT Lane Johnson will play at least one more game before he starts serving his 10-game suspension. Wentz should enjoy a clean pocket to throw from again on Sunday, because the Lions only have 9 sacks in 4 games this season. Five of those are from DE Kerry Hyder, who is replacing the injured Ziggy Ansah (14.5 sacks in 2015). Ansah is expected to be out again this week, so the Eagles should have a distinct advantage in the trenches.
Speaking of injured players, Eagles RB Ryan Mathews is actually practicing again and should be healthy on Sunday. The Eagles have the 9th ranked rushing attack (119.3 ypg), in spite of the fact that Mathews has been mostly absent due to injuries this year. His return will be a welcome addition against a Lions run defense that is ranked 23rd (114.5 ypg). The Eagles will be facing a team running a 4-3 defense, so that's good news for undersized center Jason Kelce.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Lions Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The strength of this Lions team is their offense, led by QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford has completed 104-of-156 passes for 1,198 yards, 7 TDs and 4 INTs (93.9 passer rating); to lead the Lions 9th ranked overall offense (376 ypg) and 6th ranked passing attack (282.8 ypg). Of course, the Eagles have allowed the fewest points in the NFL (9 points per game) and have the 6th ranked pass defense (203.3 ypg). The matchup between Stafford and the Eagles pass defense will decide this game.
The Lions replaced the retired Johnson with Marvin Jones, who has 23 catches for 482 yards and 2 TDs. The yardage puts him second only to Julio Jones in the entire NFL, so the Eagles secondary is going to have their hands full with him. The good news for the Eagles is that CB Leodis McKelvin is expected to return from his hamstring injury. The Lions also have Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin, but neither is having a particularly good season. The Eagles secondary will double Jones most of the game and dare the other receiving options on Detroit to beat them. TE Eric Ebron left last week's game with an ankle injury and isn't practicing this week, so he probably won't face the Eagles.
The Lions don't have much in the way of a rushing attack (ranked 22nd) without RB Ameer Abdullah, who is out with torn ligaments in his foot. Theo Riddick is now their lead back, but he is much more of a receiving threat than an actual runner. Riddick has only averaged 2.98 yards per carry during his career. Since the Eagles enter this game with the 3rd best run defense in the NFL (71 ypc), I wouldn't expect much running from Detroit on Sunday.
Since 2012, Detroit has used three 1st round picks and two 3rd round picks on offensive linemen. All five are starting, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. The Lions lead the NFL with 10 holding penalties, which is bad news for Detroit against the Eagles defensive line. Fletcher Cox is going to terrorize Stafford and the Detroit RBs, while Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham have a field day against RT Riley Reiff and rookie LT Taylor Decker. The Eagles should add a few more sacks to their total of 10, which is the 9th most in the NFL even though they have played only 3 games.
Who will have the best day for the Eagles against the Lions?
The Eagles still have great special teams across the board, even though they allowed a punt return TD to the Bears. They also have Darren Sproles, who is a threat to return any punt for a TD. The Lions have the incredibly accurate Matt Prater at kicker, while Sam Martin handles the punting and kickoffs. He has had half of his 16 punts returned, but the Lions have been very good in their coverage.
Doug Pederson might be the Eagles head coach, but the big story is defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz returning to play a Detroit team that fired him after the 2013 season. And Schwartz has a defense that is sure to make it a long day for the home crowd in Motown. Detroit hired Jim Caldwell and his two Super Bowl rings to replace Schwartz, but it hasn't exactly gone well. Caldwell has a 18-14 record in Detroit, but after making the playoffs in 2014, it looks like the Lions are going in the wrong direction these days.
This was NOT A Happy Thanksgiving
I can't see the Lions having much success running the ball against the Eagles defense, which will make them one-dimensional. That would be very bad news for Stafford and the Lions offensive line, against the Eagles front four. We keep waiting for Carson Wentz to look like a rookie and now he'll be starting his first NFL game in a dome against a hostile crowd. That might be intimidating if the Detroit defense was even average, but they aren't.
The Eagles should win this game rather easily.
Eagles 31 - Lions 20