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Lions vs. Eagles Preview

The Lions open the 2010 home schedule with a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in a matchup of the only two teams without their starting quarterbacks in Week 2.  The Eagles are coming off of almost as disappointing a loss as the Lions after losing several players to critical injuries and having a comeback effort fall just short.  Both teams have a lot to prove in a very interesting and desperate matchup.

Lions’ Advantages

  • The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the more explosive offensive units in the league with dual-threat LeSean McCoy at running back, two burners at receiver in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson and a legitimate receiving threat in Brent Celek at tight end.  However, the Eagles’ offensive line has been a problem area that became more problematic with starting center Jamaal Jackson going on injured reserve after tearing a bicep in last week’s game.  As we saw in Chicago all the talent at the skill positions means nothing if the offensive line struggles.  The Lions’ defensive line should be considered the favorite in this matchup.
  • The Lions’ tight ends have a size and speed advantage over the Eagles’ linebackers that the Lions need to exploit.  Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew are 6’5″ and the Eagles’ biggest linebacker, Stewart Bradley, won’t play tomorrow due to a serious concussion.  That leaves undersized Ernie Sims, Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither matched up against the tight ends.  The tight ends need to play a huge role in keeping the Eagles from rolling coverage outside to Calvin Johnson.
  • The Lions’ have the advantage of knowing that Michael Vick is starting, rather than having to deal with him coming off the bench like the Packers did.  Vick has rarely beaten teams with his arm in his career, so if the Lions can devise schemes to keep him contained when running they have an advantage.  Vick is not an accurate passer, but he does have a strong arm and can get the ball downfield to his playmaking wideouts.  He may be able to hit a big play or two in the passing game, but he isn’t a player that can consistently attack a secondary.

Lions’ Disadvantages

  •  The Lions struggled against an undersized and active defensive front last week and this week could be more of the same.  Except the Eagles have more size on the defensive line than the Bears while still matching them in speed.  Complicating matters is the Eagles’ aggressive blitzing which puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line to make the right blocking adjustments.  The Lions held up in pass protection well except for three breakdowns, but they had constant breakdowns in their run blocking.  If the Eagles are getting penetration against the run, the Lions need to call more running plays that utilize a fullback to help keep the defense out of the backfield. 
  • The Eagle’s speed at receiver will cause problems for the Lions because any mistake is magnified by their excellent speed.  A blown coverage against slower receivers may yield a 30 yard play, but against Jackson or Maclin those 30 yarders turn into 60 yarders.  Vick’s ability to scramble makes the coverage more prone to breakdowns because the secondary ends up focusing on keeping him contained if he scrambles while they try to maintain coverage downfield.
  • While having time to prepare for facing Vick is an advantage for the Lions, he is still a great improviser and devising plans to stop him and stopping him are two very different things.  The Lions’ aggressive pass rush actually works in his favor as an aggressive upfield rush creates lanes for him to run.  The Lions will have to generate a rush, but instead of selling out to get upfield, they need to rush with discipline to avoid leaving gaps.  In addition, the spin move, which is one of the more useful pass rushing moves becomes a liability against Vick.  The defender has his back to Vick for a period of time and when you spin, you commit to one gap while vacating another.  That slows the pass rush down and gives Vick more time to throw.  On the flip side, the Buccaneers used to have a lot of success against Vick because they could generate a pass rush with four lineman rather than blitzing.  That left seven defenders in coverage and usually a spy to watch Vick.  If the Lions can replicate that, they will have a chance to neutralize the advantage and force Vick to beat them with his arm.

Wild Card

This is where we see if Jim Schwartz has the coaching chops to turn this team around.  If the Lions come out and play aggressive and focused football, Schwartz was able to galvanize the team despite all the adversity they faced in Week 1.  If the Lions come out sloppy, unfocused or lackadaisical the distractions are still in the players heads and they weren’t buying what the coaches were selling all week.

Ultimately, how the Lions bounce back from a week from hell will determine the outcome of this game.  Well coached teams rally in the face of adversity and good teams win in spite of the road blocks.  We’ll see if the Lions are either of those this Sunday.

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