The difference between 3-3 and 4-2 is only one game in the standings. But it is light years apart in the mind. Especially when you don’t play for another two weeks.
If the Eagles defeat the Detroit Lions on Sunday (1 p.m.), they will enter their bye week with a 4-2 record. Their world will not be perfect, but there will be a positive feeling surrounding the team.
If the Eagles lose to the Lions, there will be consternation – if not outright panic. The Eagles would be 3-3, with losses in two straight games and the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (if they beat the Raiders on Sunday) coming to town the week after the bye.
The Eagles do not want to spend the next two weeks mulling over two straight losses and worrying about how to overcome the formidable Falcons in order to avoid a third straight loss and falling below .500. Sunday’s game (1 p.m.) isn’t a “must win,” but it is a pivotal game in the Eagles’ season.
Fortunately, the Lions aren’t the Falcons. They limp into Lincoln Financial Field with a 1-3 record. They have lost three straight games since slipping past the Rams in their season opener. The Lions are even more desperate for a win than the Eagles.
The Lions have two huge forces, one on offense and one on defense. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) is one of the NFL’s elite receivers. Johnson is averaging nearly six catches per game, but has just one touchdown.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh wreaks havoc on and off the field. The police and justice system are handling Suh’s latest traffic incident (he allegedly sideswiped a car Thursday and threatened the driver of the other car) and off-road legal dispute (he was sued by a couple for not returning their security deposit and not allowing them access to property left at the rented home owned by Suh). But the authorities may have an easier time dealing with Suh than Eagles center Dallas Reynolds and guards Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins.
The Eagles certainly don’t want Suh clogging up the middle or, even worse, collapsing the pocket and crushing quarterback Michael Vick. Suh doesn’t always seem to put forth maximum effort. The Eagles have to hope that his legal issues this week don’t fuel Suh’s fire.
The following are questions to consider for Sunday’s Eagles-Lions game at Lincoln Financial Field:
Can Michael Vick hold onto the football?
Vick has been a turnover machine this season. He has 11 turnovers, although he hasn’t thrown an interception for three weeks. Vick fumbled four times during last week’s 16-14 loss to the Steelers, losing two of them. Like a high school girl carrying around a doll in order to understand some of the responsibilities that come with having a baby, Vick has carried around a football all week as a reminder to take good care of the football. The good news is the Lions don’t have an interception this season. If Vick turns the ball over multiple times against the Lions, the Nick Foles whispers will grow increasingly louder.
Can the Eagles score more points?
The Eagles are averaging 16 points per game. The only team averaging fewer points is Jacksonville. The Eagles, of course, would rank higher if they didn’t turn the ball over so often, particularly in the red zone. The Eagles are good at moving the ball up and down the field, so the key to their scoring woes is to reduce their turnovers. (See the previous question for the key to reducing turnovers.)
Can the Eagles score a lot of points against the Lions’ defense?
They can, but maybe not as easily as you might think. The Lions’ opponents are averaging 28.5 points per game. That average, however, includes four special teams touchdowns (more on this area later in the preview). Without the return touchdowns, the average is a much more respectable 21.5 points per game. The Lions are particularly good at defending in their red zone, an Eagles trouble spot this season. The Lions’ secondary is suspect, but it should be bolstered this week by the return of safety Louis Delmas (knee surgery).
Can the Eagles stop Calvin Johnson?
The Eagles will try to use Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Johnson. Hopefully, they will also provide help underneath from a linebacker or safety and over-the-top downfield from a safety. You can bet the Lions will try to move Johnson around, trying to get him matched up against rookie Brandon Boykin. The Eagles must do a better job than they did against Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. One factor that should help the Eagles is they shouldn’t need to use a lot of resources trying to stop the Lions’ nearly non-existent rushing attack.
Will the Eagles finally get some sacks?
The Eagles’ vaunted pass rush hasn’t produced a sack the past two games. Without being overly concerned with the Lions’ running game, the Eagles should be able to pin back their ears and charge the pass-happy Lions. But Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford releases the ball quickly and has only been sacked nine times this season. The Lions also use the Wide-9 system employed by the Eagles, so Stafford and the offensive line should be used to the angles of the pass rushers, just as the Eagles offense should be comfortable against the Lions because they are used to practicing against the Wide-9.
How bad are the Lions’ special teams?
Worse than the Eagles. That should tell you something. The Lions have given up a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in each of their last two games. Opponents are averaging 32.8 yards on kickoff returns and an astounding 27.3 yards per punt return. By contrast, the Eagles’ poor coverage teams are allowing 30.3 and 11.1 yards per kickoff and punt return. The Eagles’ returners are averaging 19.6 yards per kickoff return and 6 yards per punt return. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles use the explosive DeSean Jackson on punt returns in certain situations this week. Field position should finally be in the Eagles’ favor this week, which should put the offense in a better position to score points.
Prediction: The Lions seem tailor-made for the Eagles. They don’t run the ball very well, their special teams are worse than the Eagles’ special teams and their defense doesn’t produce a lot of turnovers. The ingredients are there for the Eagles’ first blowout victory of the season. On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t won a game by more than two points all year. Eagles 30, Lions 27