Eagles-Lions Preview: What a Turkey
Good news Philadelphia Eagles fans. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL to have played more than twice on Thanksgiving and still be undefeated. Their win at Dallas last season brought their all-time Turkey Day record to a perfect 6-0.
Thus ends the positive portion of this preview, where the Eagles are concerned.
This Thanksgiving, the Eagles have to travel to Detroit to face the suddenly hot Lions. The Lions are only 3-7, but have won their last two games by a combined score of 74-27. And it's not like they've beaten bad teams, like the Eagles, whose 4 wins are all against teams with a losing record. The Lions beat the Packers in Green Bay two weeks ago and then beat the Oakland Raiders at home last week.
The last time these two teams met, it was a snowy day in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, neither of these teams resembles the teams they were two short years ago. Let's take a look at the matchup for this game.
Eagles Offense Versus Lions Defense
Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford has cleared the NFL concussion protocol, but is still dealing with a sore non-throwing shoulder and is questionable to start on Thursday. That most likely means another start for the human turnover-machine, Mark Sanchez at QB for the Eagles. Sanchez's 3 INTs in an ugly 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay last week gave him a total of 84 INTs and 104 turnovers in 73 career games. Yes, he really is that bad. Of course, if Sanchez does start it will give the network yet another excuse to roll out the infamous butt fumble video. And who doesn't enjoy laughing at one of the most ridiculous plays in NFL history? I mean, Eagles fans certainly aren't getting any joy out of watching their team fail each week.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball this week, the Eagles 14th ranked passing offense (255.8 ypg) will be facing a Detroit defense that is ranked 19th against the pass (250.5 ypg). Their safeties are a big part of the problem there, but the Lions have the best CB that nobody has ever heard of. His name is Darius Slay and he's slowing taking over the title of best CB in the entire NFL. He held Oakland's incredible rookie WR Amari Cooper to just one catch last week and didn't give up a single catch to any Green Bay WR he was covering the week before. That would be the same Packers team quarterbacked by perennial All Pro Aaron Rodgers. He normally covers the other team's No.1 WR, but the Eagles don't really have one of those. The closest would be Jordan Matthews and he had all of 4 catches for 13 yards last week. The rest of the Eagles receivers are absolute garbage and TE Zach Ertz is likely to miss this game with a concussion.
With that in mind, expect the Eagles to attack the Lions on the ground. After all, Detroit's run defense is ranked 22nd in the NFL (116.7 ypg) and the Eagles spent all that money on DeMarco Murray in free agency. Murray will once again get the (no pun intended) lion's share of the carries, with Ryan Mathews still out with his own concussion issues. Murray has been running better lately, but one of his teammates openly questioned his effort during the Dolphins game two weeks ago. That is not a good sign. It's also not a good sign that the Lions have actually been stout against the run the past two weeks, led by DT Haloti Ngata and DE Ezekiel Ansah. Through the first 8 games of the season, the Lions were allowing an average of 133.8 rushing yards per game and 4.35 yards per carry. Over the last two weeks, they allowed a combined 97 yards rushing, which comes out to 48.5 yards per game and just a 2.48 average per carry. And while the Packers haven't been running the ball very well this season, they held the Raiders' Latavius Murray, who led the AFC in rushing, to 28 yards on 13 carries last week.
The news gets even worse for the Eagles there as their offensive line is horrible. Of course, that's what happens when you only draft one offensive lineman in the last three drafts, cut your two starting guards from last season without having even a decent backup ready to step in and expect LT Jason Peters to suddenly find the Fountain of Youth at the age of 34. Chip Kelly makes Ruben Amaro Jr look like a genius as a GM, by comparison.
Lions Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford is kind of like Sam Bradford. Both were No. 1 overall picks who have failed to live up to the hype. Stafford has had some good seasons, especially his great 2011 season with over 5,000 passing yards and 41 TDs, but can't seem to get his team over the hump. He's thrown for 2,607 yards, with 15 TDs and 12 INTs this season. Good, but not good enough for a guy who was expected to be the franchise QB, just like Bradford in St. Louis.
The difference with Stafford is that he has had a Hall of Fame WR to throw to his entire career. Calvin Johnson is simply a beast and he is going to destroy the Eagles CBs. Johnson's 828 receiving yards ranks 10th in the NFL. Nolan Carroll isn't very good and Byron Maxwell doesn't really care after cashing in during free agency. That halfhearted play he made at the goal line last week on a pass that just hung in the air was pathetic. On the other side is Golden Tate (52 catches for 502 yards), who is better than any receiver on the Eagles. Expect the Lions to test the Eagles 16th ranked pass defense (245.9 ypg) early and often. The Lions RBs are also excellent receivers. Theo Riddick has 50 receptions for 445 yards out of the backfield and will be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. Expect Connor Barwin to have to cover him out of the backfield.
After the Eagles game up 283 yards rushing to the lowly Bucs last week, you would expect the Lions to run the ball all day on the Eagles' 26th ranked run defense (128.5 ypg). The problem is that the Lions have the worst running game in the entire NFL, averaging only 71.1 yards per game. There have been 67 100-yard rushing games this season and not one of them has been by a Detroit player. The Eagles are sure to put an end to that streak this week. Their lack of basic tackling is appalling. Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah and Riddick share the backfield, but there should be plenty of yards to go around against this Eagles defense.
The Lions offensive line is nothing special, but teams don't have to be special, or even decent, to dominate the Eagles in recent weeks. The Lions have given up 26 sacks, which is 23rd in the NFL, but the Eagles don't seem capable of getting to the QB anymore. Maybe defensive coordinator Bill Davis will actually dial up a blitz for a change against the immobile Stafford. He certainly can't afford to let him sit there and pick apart the Eagles secondary like he did last week against Jameis Winston, who threw 5 TDs.
The Eagles had the best special teams units in the NFL across the board last season. This season, they are actually hurting the team. What happened? Darren Sproles has one punt return TD, but he is not doing much other than that. The coverage units are decent, but they have had two punts blocked this season. Now, suddenly long-snapper Jon Durenbos can't snap the ball and kicker Caleb Sturgis keeps missing FGs. That is all very bad news against good Detroit special teams units. Kicker Matt Prater hasn't missed a FG this season and just knocked through his 27th career 50-yard FG. That tied him for 8th place on the all-time 50-yard FG list with some guy named Akers. Abdullah leads the NFL in both kickoff return yards (724) and average (31.5). This could be the difference in the game on Thursday.
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Eagles coach Chip Kelly continually throws his players under the bus after each loss, saying that they simply need to play better. He ignores the fact that he picked these bad players and the rest of the NFL has figured out his gimmicky college offense. Opposing teams are calling out the plays before they run them, because the offense is so simplistic. Kelly refuses to acknowledge that he isn't a genius and refuses to make any changes to his offense or the personnel. I hear LSU might be looking for a new head coach in the offseason. Just saying. Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell was run out of Indianapolis and landed here. A former QB coach for Peyton Manning, the hope was that he could help mold Stafford. The jury is still out on that one. The Lions are generally considered to be the laughingstock of the NFL year after year, so Caldwell is fighting an uphill battle. It's speaks well of his leadership that he's got a team that started the season 1-7 on a 2-game winning streak. Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin led the No. 3 overall defense and the No. 1 run defense last season. It looks like he's corrected whatever went wrong early in the season.
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The Lions are dead last in the NFL with a -10 turnover differential, due to the fact that they are tied for last in the NFL with only 4 INTs. Mark Sanchez should be able to help them out with that ranking though. The Eagles once led the NFL in turnovers, but suddenly can't seem to get them anymore. That's a big problem when your defense can't stop the other team from racking up yards and your offense cant' stop turning the ball over themselves.
The Lions aren't a good team, but the Eagles might actually be worse. The Lions are certainly the hotter team right now and they're at home. The Eagles have to travel on a short week and the wheels of the Chip Kelly bandwagon have seemingly fallen off. The NFL certainly can't be happy with this Turkey of a game.
Lions 27 - Eagles 20