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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles: Aiming for Revenge

by: Ryan Waldis
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Photo Courtesy: Philadelphia Eagles
ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch

This game wasn't supposed to be as good as it is. The Eagles were supposed to have five or six wins at this point in the season, while the Lions were supposed to be third in the division, behind the Packers and the Bears. It's funny how things work out. With just four weeks to go in the regular season, both the Lions and Eagles are fighting for a division title. You could bring up the argument that both teams are seemingly lucky to be in the position their in, what with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler spending time with injuries and the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins under-performing. That doesn't matter at this point. With a win, the Eagles would improve to 8-5, having possession of a five game winning streak (including three at home). This is easily the toughest remaining game on the Eagles schedule. If they win, they're a playoff team. If they don't win, they may need some help from other teams eventually.

The Last Time They Met: October 14th, 2012- Lions 26, Eagles 23

Hanson reacts after his game-winning field goal.
Photo Courtesy: SB Nation
There were a lot of terrible games during the 2012 season. This may have been the worst of them. Staked to a 10 point lead after a 70 yard TD pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin with 5:18 to go in the fourth, the Eagles defense imploded, letting up 10 points in the fourth and three in overtime.

There were just over three minutes to go after Matthew Stafford's TD pass to Nate Burleson, but the Eagles proceeded to go three-and-out, allowing the Lions to tie it as time expired.

The Eagles got the ball first in overtime but failed to do anything. Vick was sacked twice and the Eagles were forced the punt the ball out of their own endzone. The Lions started at midfield, and made it to the 32 yard-line, where Jason Hanson converted a 49 yard field goal attempt, ending the game.

The loss was the second consecutive late loss for the Eagles; one week earlier fans had to witness the Steelers chew up over six minutes of clock en route to a field goal by Shaun Suisham as time expired.

Vick started slow but finished with 28 completions on 46 attempts for 311 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite target was Maclin, who hauled in six passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. LeSean McCoy had a rough day, rushing for only 22 yards on 14 attempts.

Stafford finished with 22 completions on 45 attempts for 311 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His favorite target was, of course, Calvin Johnson, who caught six passes for 135 yards. Unlike Vick, Stafford had a run game to work with, as Mikel Leshoure carried the ball 15 times for 70 yards.

Eagles Offense vs. Lions Defense
Two of the best d-linemen in the league.
Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

Despite the conditions not being as favorable as they were last week, it's safe to say that the Eagles offense can't possibly perform worse than they did during the second half against the Cardinals. The forecast is calling for snow, rain, and temperatures in the mid 30's, so LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown will need to get going early. That's not going to be an easy task. The Lions run defense is allowing only 82.7 rushing yards per game, which is good for third in the league. They're led by a strong defensive line highlighted by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The linebackers have contributed as well; Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy lead the team with 97 and 95 total tackles, respectively, and are forces in the run game. Levy also leads the team in interceptions, with six.

Foles will give the Eagles the best chance to win on Sunday.
Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated
If the run defense proves to be too much for the Eagles, they should be able to beat the Lions through the air, even with the unfavorable conditions. Nick Foles has thrown 19 TD's without an interception this season, and is one away from tying Peyton Manning's mark. Chip Kelly and the Eagles offense need to ride with the hot hand (aka Foles) in order to beat the Lions, who have the 26th ranked pass defense in the league. DeSean Jackson had a bit of quiet game last week against the Cardinals, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Foles target him early. Riley Cooper should also get his fair share of targets due to his level of production over the last several weeks.

Lions Offense vs. Eagles Defense

Stafford plus Bush plus Johnson equals overkill.
Photo Courtesy:
The Lions offense is one of the more dangerous offenses the Eagles have faced all year (it's not the most dangerous, and you know why). Matthew Stafford is having another fine season; he's completed 296 of his 500 attempts for 3,825 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Of course, he has arguably the most dangerous WR in the game at his disposal in Calvin Johnson. Johnson has 72 receptions on the year, which are good for 1,299 yards and 12 TD's. If the Eagles want to come out of Sunday's game with a win, they'll need to find some way to eliminate Johnson from the equation, but of course that's easier said than done. They actually did a decent job last year, holding Johnson to only one reception before that dreaded fourth quarter began. The Lions don't just have Johnson though; Kris Durham and Brandon Pettigrew are factors in the passing game, as are Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, the team's two RB's. Both Bush and Bell are having excellent years; Bush has 854 rushing yards, 448 receiving yards and five total TD's while Bell has 435 rushing yards, 378 receiving yards and six total TD's. Even the offensive line is one of the better ones in the league. If this Lions team played the Eagles in September, they'd easily put up 30-plus points.

Cox is a budding superstar for the Eagles.
Photo Courtesy:
Except they're not playing them in September, they're playing them in early December. This Eagles defense has had a heck of run over the past couple of months. The last time they let up more than 21 points in a game was September 29th, against that very dangerous offense I mentioned earlier (if you still can't remember, maybe the number 52 will ring a bell). The Eagles defense will bend, but they've shown that they won't break. Sure, they let up a lot of yards, but that's mainly due to the fact that the opposing team starts deep in their own territory a lot of the time. Regardless, Cary Williams said that the defense would build an identity, and it's safe to say it has. The defensive line is among the youngest in the league, but is it filled with play-makers. Fletcher Cox stands out, but Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan also stand out, as does second-year man Vinny Curry. Connor Barwin may be the best FA signing the Eagles made back in the spring, and has really solidified a linebacking corps that includes Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole. The secondary will have their hands full, but Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will be up to the task. This defense has impressed since the first week of October, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep up their performance against a potent Lions offense.

Special Teams Battle

Remember when I said Connor Barwin might have been the best free agent signing the Eagles made last spring? Donnie Jones might be giving him a run for his money. Jones seemingly pins the opposition deep in their own territory punt after punt, and even has a couple NFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards to boot. Overall, he has a net average of 41.2 yards (with a long of 70) while 29 of his 65 punts have landed inside the 20. Alex Henery has made 18 of his 23 field goal attempts (with a long of 48). Damaris Johnson, Brandon Boykin, and DeSean Jackson are the main return men.

There's a familiar face on Detroit's ST unit: David Akers. Akers makes his second and most likely last return to Philadelphia. He's converted on 15 of 20 attempts with a long of 53. He's on the decline, and it's possible that he'll be without a job after this season is over. Punter Sam Martin has also been excellent: he has a net average of 41.5 (with a long of 72), while 13 of his 48 punts have landed inside the 20. Micheal Spurlock and Jeremy Ross are the main return men.

Prediction: Eagles 27, Lions 23

This is a game that many expect the Eagles to lose. To be honest, if this game was being played a couple of months ago, they would lose. However, the offense has been clicking under Nick Foles, the defense has been outstanding, and the special teams unit has greatly contributed. Sure, Stafford, Bush, and Johnson are a dangerous threesome to have to contend with, but the Eagles will be up the task. The Eagles will improve to 8-5, and by the end of Monday Night, they'll have sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

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