It’s a big week for the 7-5 Detroit Lions this Sunday, as they travel to Philadelphia to go up against the 7-5 Philadelphia Eagles who are currently on a four game winning streak. For the Lions this game is important for the main fact that if the Lions win this game they maintain control of the NFC North and take one step closer to clinching a playoff berth.
Now winning this game won’t be easy. As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles are currently on a four game winning streak and no one can deny that the offense has performed exceptionally well under quarterback Nick Foles. However, like any team, the Eagles can be beat and I think the Lions are just the team to end the Eagles winning streak but only if they follow certain keys to victory.
Believe it or not, going into this game it all starts with the Detroit Lions offense stepping up and playing well. All season long the defense has kept Lions in games while the offense has had issues with turnovers and scoring consistently. Going into this game, the Lions offense must play well for four quarters and not turn the ball over if they plan to win this game.
Starting with the passing game and for the passing game to perform well, quarterback Matthew Stafford must play well. Stafford must first take care of the ball, the Eagles defense isn’t the most consistent but that hasn’t stop them from earning 15 interceptions this season and that’s something the Lions can’t afford in this game. However, Stafford will have an opportunity to take advantage of the Eagles secondary and the best way for him to do that is to spread the ball around. I definitely encourage Stafford to get the ball to wide receiver Calvin Johnson but he must also continue getting everyone involves such as Nate Burleson, Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. They must be able to get open and catch the ball but Stafford must also put the ball only where his target can get it and throw the ball accurately. To many times this season, Stafford has forced passes or over thrown receivers and that can’t continue to happen in this game if they plan on having success. However, I will say again that the receivers must play their part as well, the Lions currently lead the league in dropped passes, so even if Stafford does put the pass right on the money, the receivers must make the play and catch the ball.
The Lions must also get the running game going into this game. Contrary to the statics, teams have found success against the Eagles when running the ball and the Lions will need to run the ball early and often for the offense to have success. The offensive line has shown they can open up holes and it’s up to running backs to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to hit the holes and make a plays. I said it last week and I will say it again, Bell does a great job of hitting the hole and accelerating, Bush did a good job of it last week and he needs to do it again in this game. He can’t afford to dance his way into tackles or the run game will go no where fast. Running the ball effectively will be huge in this game, mainly because it helps to balance out the offense and help with the passing game but more importantly, it helps to control the clock and keep the Eagles power offense off the field.
Which leads me to defensive keys of the game for the Lions and contrary to belief it all starts with the run defense. All season long people have raved about the Lions defensive line and their ability to get to the quarterback but few give credit to the Lions run defense. Lions run defense is currently ranked 3rd in the NFL, limiting their opponents to 80 rushing yards a game. Going into this game, it all starts with containing running back LeSean McCoy. Now that’s easier said and done but it is a possible, however for it to take place, the defensive line must control the line of scrimmage which will allow the linebackers to make plays in the backfield along with the defensive line. However, the Lions have to be weary of controlling the edge as well, seeing that McCoy can have success running up the middle or to the outside but if the Lions can contain him it will be huge. There is no doubt that quarterback Nick Foles has played well but he has also had the running game to fall back on. Containing the run game allows the Lions to focus on slowing down Foles and forces Foles to beat them through the air with limited help from the run game. It also limits the Eagles play-action opportunities of the Eagles.
However, the pass defense will have to play well in this game for the Lions to have any chance of winning and it starts with creating pressure on Foles. In the last four weeks, Foles has played well but he also hasn’t received much pressure from opposing defenses, so the Lions defensive line must make a point to create pressure and force Foles to rush. Now Foles already has a quick release so it won’t be easy but if the Lions are able to make him feel uncomfortable and rush it could prove to be a huge factor in this game. Nonetheless, the Lions secondary must also be ready step up and play their part regardless of what the defensive line does. It all starts with containing the primary play makers, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, both plays are dynamic and the Lions must confine them to narrow lanes instead of wide paths. Same goes for the Eagles other targets such as Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz, they may not have the most amazing speed but they do great things after the catch in space. For the pass defense to be successful, the Lions will have to communicate because the Eagles like to run a lot of play-action and bubble screens and it’s during those time that linebackers and safeties must communicate and be cautious of coming inside the tackle box to help against the run or being patient and watching the development of the play. Most importantly the Lions defense must wrap up and finish tackles, they can’t afford to be beat by the big play because they couldn’t tackle or communicate.
There is no doubt that the Eagles are one of the better teams in the NFL right now but I think the Lions are more than capable of winning this game and keeping control of the NFC North. However, I say again, this game could come down to the offense stepping up and playing consistent for four quarters. I think the Lions defense will play their part but with the way the Eagles have played the last four weeks, you can see that it is hard to contain them for four quarters. With that being said, the Lions will get their stops and possibly even force some turnovers but eventually the Eagles offense will get going, so the Lions offense must be able to capitalize on every scoring opportunity. All season long, the Lions put themselves in situations where they have to win close games mainly because the offense doesn’t put games out of reach. Sometimes the Lions are able to do that and still win but sometimes they aren’t able to bounce back and they lose, just look at their losses to Arizona, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. So going into this game I hope to see the Lions offense do a better job of taking advantage of every red-zone opportunity and if the defense plays their part, the Lions should be able to walk a way with a victory.
As for my prediction, I am picking the Lions to win this game in a close one. I think the Eagles will put up a good fight but I don’t trust the Eagles to finish strong because they have been known to struggle in the second half. I honestly don’t trust the Lions to finish strong either, but I have more faith in the Lions ability to step up when needed than I do the Eagles right now. Nonetheless, it should be a good game full of big plays on both sides of the ball.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com