The Eagles (2-5) are on the road again in Detroit to face the Lions (0-7) on Sunday at Ford Field.
Here are five matchups to watch:
Jared Goff vs. Jonathan Gannon
The Eagles’ defensive coordinator has come under fire in recent weeks as his passive defense has given up big games to Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Derek Carr. Goff isn’t as good as any of them.
But Goff this year is still completing over 66% of his passes but is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt, tied for 28th in the NFL. So he’s shown no problem checking down and taking what the defense gives him. And guess what? This Eagles defense gives plenty in front of them in this Cover 2 scheme.
Gannon’s whole system is about forcing teams to go on long drives and forcing them into errors. Top quarterbacks don’t make many errors, but Goff has six interceptions this season so it’s perhaps more likely their passive defense would work against him.
Still, the Eagles have talked about challenging opposing quarterbacks more and it would behoove them to strike a better balance. They’ve been so worried about getting beaten over the top — and they haven’t — but when you’re given up long drives and not stopping the opposition in the red zone, that strategy just isn’t going to work. And in this game, it really doesn't make sense to give huge cushions because the Lions aren't beating anyone deep; they have just three passes of 40+ yards this season.
Jalen Hurts vs. poor pass defense
In the last three weeks, Hurts has had a completion percentage under 60%. Meanwhile, the Lions’ opposing completion percentage is at 68% this year.
The Lions give up yards in the pass game. They’ve seen only 206 passing attempts against them, but have given up 1,841 yards and 15 touchdowns. You can throw on this team and this might be a game to help Hurts get back on track.
The Lions’ starting cornerbacks aren’t great. Here are their starters and their PFF rankings: Jerry Jacobs (53), Amani Oruwariye (97), AJ Parker (109). The Lions are without third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu and last year’s first-rounder Jeff Okudah, who are both injured.
Eagles’ running backs vs. Lions’ run defense
The Eagles will be without Miles Sanders this week, which means they’ll likely have to go with a running back by committee with Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard.
“We're looking through that, obviously with Miles being down,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “Kenny is a good player. Boston's played a lot of football in this league, and so has Jordan. We'll look through that this week.”
Nick Sirianni finally used Jalen Hurts under center and actually ran the ball early against the Raiders … and then Sanders went down.
So we’ll see if Sirianni will still be willing to run the ball even without his top running back. The Lions have the NFL’s 21st ranked run defense but they’re giving up just 4.1 yards per attempt, which is 11th best in the league. Their run stopper in the middle is third-round pick Alim McNeill, whom you’ll remember as the guy Tom Donahoe wanted the Eagles to draft over Milton Williams.
D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams vs. Eagles’ linebackers
The Lions have two good backs who are being coached by Duce Staley. Both players have ability as runners and in the passing game. Here’s a look at their numbers:
Swift: 78 carries, 262 yards, 3 TDs; 42 catches, 391 yards, 2 TDs
Williams: 71 carries, 312 yards, 2 TDs; 16 catches, 99 yards
If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles’ linebackers aren’t very good. So facing these two running backs and tight end T.J. Hockenson will keep them busy on Sunday.
Dave Fipp vs. Michael Clay
The ol’ student vs. teacher special teams matchup! It might sound silly but this could be something to watch in this game. Clay coached under Fipp during the Chip Kelly years and now these two teams will face off.
And both teams are in desperation mode, which means we might see some trickery. We saw it from both teams last week. The Eagles tried a surprise onside kick to start the half and the Lions tried an onside kick and two fake punts against the Rams.
So both teams put a ton of stuff on tape last week so both coaches will be busy preparing and adding wrinkles this week. And their familiarity with one another only makes this more intriguing.
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