Which Eagles Free Agents Will Be Back?

Philadelphia Eagles LB Akeem JordanWe’ve started to preview free agency in the past few days with breakdowns of the cornerbacks and the safeties.

And we’ll continue to look at other positions the rest of the week. But for now, here’s a peek at the Eagles’ own pending free agents, with some thoughts on who could be back.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – As you know by now, the Eagles chose to not franchise Rodgers-Cromartie. He has size, speed and a Pro Bowl under his belt, yet Rodgers-Cromartie seems destined to be on his third team in four years. Given the cornerback depth in free agency, it’ll be interesting to see what the demand is like for DRC. There could be a slim chance that the Eagles consider a short-term deal after letting him test the market. But more likely, another team will see his age and talent and take a shot on him.

Jake Scott – He was out of the league until the Eagles’ ninth game of the season in 2012. But Scott got seven starts at right guard, taking over for Danny Watkins. While he wouldn’t be a bad option for depth/competition, my guess is the Eagles will go with a younger option. Scott turns 32 next month.

Derek Landri – He was really good in 2011, but that production did not carry over to last season. Landri was part of the defensive tackle rotation (46.1 percent of the snaps, per Pro Football Focus), but didn’t have a sack all year. Even though he had seven tackles for loss, Landri struggled against the run also. I would be surprised if the Eagles brought the 29-year-old back.

King Dunlap – I’ve seen arguments by people who think he deserves a legitimate shot to start somewhere, and I have to disagree. Dunlap, a seventh-round pick in 2008, deserves credit for having stayed in the league this long. He’s a complete non-factor as a run blocker and had nine penalties, tied for the most among Eagles offensive players. Dunlap demonstrated competency as a pass blocker on occasion, but it’s highly unlikely that his body could hold up as a 16-game starter. The 27-year-old will look to find a roster spot elsewhere.

Akeem Jordan – It seems like the Eagles try to get rid of him every year, and he just keeps finding his way back on to the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Jordan has played in 82 games the past six seasons for the Eagles. Last year, he ranked third in special-teams points and led the Birds with 15 special-teams tackles. Jordan played 36.6 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last year, per PFF. Even though it feels like Jordan has been around for awhile, he’s only 27. Right now, the Eagles only have two linebacker spots nailed down with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. The likelihood is that Jordan will be gone, but depending on what the Eagles do in free agency and the draft, perhaps he could get another look as a depth/special teams option.

Darryl Tapp – I think we can safely say the Seahawks got the better of this trade. The Eagles sent Chris Clemons and a fourth-round pick to Seattle for Tapp back in 2010. Tapp has had six sacks in 39 games with the Eagles as a rotational defensive end. Clemons has 33.5 sacks in 48 games as a key member of the Seahawks’ defense. Tapp played 28.5 percent of the Eagles’ snaps, per PFF, but managed just half-a-sack and eight hurries. At 28, he’ll try to catch on elsewhere.

Jon Dorenbos – I’ll admit to not knowing the intricacies of the long-snapper market these days. Dorenbos turns 33 in July and has appeared in 101 games in seven years for the Eagles.

Colt Anderson – He’s the only restricted free agent in this group, meaning the Eagles can match other teams’ offers. Of the eight players listed, Anderson is the most likely to be back. He battled back from a torn ACL, led the team in special teams points and was OK in four starts at safety towards the end of the year. If Chip Kelly is making special teams a priority, he’ll hold on to Anderson as the team’s fourth safety.

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Making Sense Of the Eagles’ Inactives

The following Eagles are inactive for today’s game against the Giants: Greg Salas, Chris Polk, Danny Watkins, Matt Kopa, Evan Moore, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks.

Cox and Kendricks both suffered concussions last week against the Redskins. Derek Landri will start in Cox’s place. The Eagles will continue to go to a rotation that includes Cullen Jenkins, Landri, Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon, who just re-signed with the team last week.

Akeem Jordan gets the start at WILL in Kendricks’ place.

With Nick Foles out, Michael Vick will get his first start since suffering a concussion against the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Trent Edwards will back him up. If Vick suffers a serious injury, the Eagles could be on the hook for a $3 million guarantee (details here).

Watkins is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. The backup offensive linemen will be Demetress Bell and Matt Tennant.

Fullback Stanley Havili returns to the lineup after missing last week’s game.

Darryl Tapp was a healthy scratch last week, but is back in the lineup.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Bucs’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans.Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Bucs’ offense.

1. As always, we start with what’s important: draft positioning. If the season ended today, the Eagles would have the fourth overall pick. The teams ahead of them are the Raiders, Jaguars and Chiefs. Oakland already lost Thursday night and is 3-10 going into the final three. Kansas City is at Cleveland, and Jacksonville hosts the Jets. Those are the two early games to keep an eye on (as you chat with us during Eagles-Bucs, of course). According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have an 8.6 percent chance at getting the top pick and a 48 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.

2. The Bucs enter Sunday’s game fourth in the NFL, averaging 27.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them 10th in overall offense – 11th in passing and eighth in rushing. Tampa is coming off back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Broncos. The Eagles, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row and are coming off a 38-33 loss to the Cowboys. They are 26th in scoring defense, allowing 26.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has the Eagles ranked 25th defensively – 31st against the pass and eighth against the run. According to their numbers, only the Raiders have been worse against the pass this season.

3. Tampa’s offense starts with rookie running back Doug Martin, who is third in the NFL with 1,106 yards. Only Adrian Peterson (17) and C.J. Spiller (11) have more runs of 20+ yards than Martin (9). According to Pro Football Focus, Martin has broken 47 tackles, tied with Peterson for most in the league. Only Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch have carried the ball more than him (236 attempts). Martin’s coming off a pair of sub-par outings against the Falcons and Broncos, where he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 39 attempts. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry (13th) against the Eagles.

4. Most of Martin’s runs (67.4 percent) have come out of two-back sets, according to STATS, Inc. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry on those attempts. That means the Eagles will be in their base personnel for much of the game. DeMeco Ryans has shown up every week, but he didn’t play particularly well against the Cowboys. Akeem Jordan played poorly. And Mychal Kendricks was up-and-down. The Eagles will be without Mike Patterson (illness). Asked if the defense will still rotate defensive linemen, coordinator Todd Bowles said, “They’ll rotate. You still have to let Coach [Tommy] Brasher get comfortable with the guys and then we kind of react and go from there as he gets more comfortable with them at the end of the week, seeing what they can and can’t do from his own eyes. I’d like to give him a fresh perspective on that.”

5. Josh Freeman ranks 31st in the NFL, completing just 55.9 percent of his passes. But he’s in luck because opponents are completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles since Bowles took over. Freeman’s averaging 7.74 yards per attempt (sixth). He’s tossed 23 touchdowns (sixth) and just eight interceptions. In the last six games, the Eagles have given up 16 touchdown passes and come up with no interceptions. On the season, opponents are completing 62.2 percent of their passes against the Eagles (17th) and averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (26th). Only four defenses have allowed more touchdown passes than the Birds (23).

6. Vincent Jackson is one of the league’s premier vertical threats. He’s got 50 catches for 1,014 yards in his first season with Tampa and is averaging 20.3 yards per reception, which is tops in the NFL. Only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and Reggie Wayne have more catches of 20+ yards than Jackson (19). While the Bucs like to run the ball, they’ll take plenty of shots downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, 15.9 percent of Freeman’s attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That is third in the league, behind only Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck. Eagles safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen have played poorly all season. Coleman’s out with a chest injury, and Colt Anderson will get the start. The Eagles will try to avoid complete breakdowns in the secondary for the first time in weeks.

7. Third-year receiver Mike Williams has also been productive with 43 catches for 718 yards (16.7 yards per reception) and six touchdowns. As for the Eagles, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems to be getting worse every week.

“As I look at film just from a personal standpoint, in my head I have a whole lot of wows,” he told Tim last week. “Like, ‘Wow, what are you doing?’ At some point, I think as the season keeps going bad, bad, you try to fight so hard and don’t want to do wrong until you end up just doing wrong and you don’t allow yourself to just go out and be [yourself].”

Not only is Rodgers-Cromartie giving up too many big plays, but he continues to consistently shy away from contact. And according to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers-Cromartie leads all cornerbacks with 11 penalties.

8. Up front, left tackle Donald Penn has started every game for Tampa since the start of the 2008 season, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2010. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who was not a factor last week against the Cowboys and has just two sacks on the season. Vinny Curry played just 19 snaps last week. That number needs to increase. Tampa is without All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. The Eagles’ pass-rush was non-existent in the second half of last week’s loss to the Cowboys. Fletcher Cox, Curry, Phillip Hunt, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp and Cedric Thornton combined for no sacks and no hurries. Brandon Graham had 1.5 sacks, four hurries and eight tackles – the most by any Eagles defensive end in a single game all season. Freeman has been sacked just 17 times all season.

9. The Eagles have just 10 takeaways through 12 games. That’s the second-fewest total in the league, ahead of only the Colts. The Bucs, meanwhile, have just 12 giveaways. In the NFC, only the Redskins have fewer.  Overall, the Eagles are minus-18 in turnover differential. Only the Chiefs (-21) are worse.

10. Leftovers: According to Football Outsiders, opponents are starting drives at the 30.28 yard line against the Eagles, the second-worst mark in the league. …The Eagles are sixth in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 45 percent of the time. The Bucs are the second-best red-zone offense in the league, scoring touchdowns 66.7 percent of the time. …Tampa is converting on 34 percent of its third-down chances (26th). The Eagles are 21st in third-down defense, allowing conversions 39.7 percent of the time.

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All-22: More Breakdowns From the Eagles’ Defense

An All-22 look at what we saw from the Eagles’ defense last week against the Cowboys.

Play 1: DeMarco Murray had not touched the ball in seven weeks. But on his first carry against the Eagles, he picked up 14 yards.

Trent Cole is upfield and gets blocked by Tyron Smith. Akeem Jordan gets manhandled by the fullback. Nnamdi Asomugha (not pictured), who actually was pretty active in run support, couldn’t get off of Dez Bryant’s block as Murray bounced it outside.

Play 2: On a day when Tony Romo went 22-for-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, he couldn’t have left any big plays on the field, right? Wrong. I have no idea why Romo didn’t pull the trigger on this pass to Jason Witten (red circle), who appeared to be wide open in the first.

Not positive, but it looks like Kurt Coleman needs to drop back deeper in coverage there. Romo scrambled and ended up dumping it off to Murray for a 1-yard loss. The Cowboys missed out on a big play here (although there were obviously opportunities for several more, as you’ll see below).

Play 3: DeMeco Ryans did not have his best game, but here, he puts on a clinic on how to play middle linebacker.

Ryans moves swiftly and decisively towards Murray, who takes the toss left. Ryans doesn’t need to worry about getting off a block, since he doesn’t allow the center to even get a hand on him.

And when he gets to Murray, Ryans executes the tackle flawlessly.

The result? His 15th tackle-for-loss this season, the most of any Eagles defender during the Andy Reid era. Ryans shows up every week.

Play 4: The call from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on this play was classic. They couldn’t believe the Eagles would leave Witten so wide open.

Coleman turns his back to the middle of the field and heads towards Dez Bryant on the outside, while Asomugha bails deep. That leaves Witten all alone.

As easy a 28-yard gain as you’ll see all season.

Play 5: I would love to be in the room when a play like Bryant’s 28-yard touchdown is shown to defensive players. It’s one thing to give up the completion, but another to fail in such an epic manner in bringing Bryant down.

Bryant is in a crowd of five defenders around the 8-yard-line. There’s no way he’s scoring here, right?

Wrong. Allen somehow runs right past Bryant, while Coleman and Jordan do the same from the other side. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t make much of an effort to get to Bryant, and Mychal Kendricks overruns him too.

Play 6: If you want to identify players who are still hustling and giving full effort, start with Brandon Graham. He’s at his usual spot at left defensive end to start this play.

It’s a handoff to the opposite side, but Graham hustles around Doug Free and chases the ballcarrier.

Look who ends up making the tackle for no gain.

Really nice effort from Graham here.

Play 7: Another bad play for Allen on the 27-yard touchdown to Miles Austin. The Eagles set up in Cover-3, as Asomugha, Allen and Rodgers-Cromartie divide the deep part of the field into thirds.

Allen’s in good position to pop Austin as soon as he catches the ball.

But the wide receiver makes a subtle move, and Allen goes flying by. Rodgers-Cromartie delivered a little swat around the 5-yard-line as Austin scampered into the end zone.

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All-22: Diagnosing Issues For the Eagles’ Defense

I know many of you don’t care to re-live Monday night’s loss to the Saints, but here are a handful of plays that caught my eye when I watched the All-22 film of their defensive snaps.

Play 1: Trent Cole rarely gets a free shot at the quarterback. But Todd Bowles’ blitz call gave him an opportunity to sack Drew Brees in the first quarter. First, check out the pre-snap look.

The Eagles show six at the line of scrimmage, and the Saints have an empty backfield, meaning someone’s going to be unblocked. The protection slides to the right, leaving Cole with a direct path to the quarterback. There’s no chip, no double team, nothing.

But Brees, as he so often does, is able to create space for himself. He delivers a little pump-fake, gets Cole to rush right past him and slides to his left. The Eagles, meanwhile, have single coverage on all five receivers since they blitzed six. Look at all the space Brees has when he finally gets rid of the ball.

The result is a 38-yard completion to Lance Moore, who was being covered by Brandon Boykin. Boykin was also called for pass interference on the play.

Cole had a pretty active game, but he missed an opportunity here, and the result was a big play.

Play 2: Plenty of blame to go around on the Chris Ivory 22-yard touchdown run. Let’s start with Brandon Graham, who gets caught inside. And Mychal Kendricks, who can’t get off his block.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may have had a shot, but he’s blocked too, as you can see below.

David Sims is the only person with a chance, and he can’t make the tackle.

One more note: Look at where Rodgers-Cromartie still is. This is the fastest guy on the defense. He’s being blocked by 6-1, 184-pound receiver Joseph Morgan. Maybe Morgan delivered a good block. But Rodgers-Cromartie has shown on several occasions that he has little interest in making plays against the run. Not a good showing on this one.

Play 3: Another big run here. The left tackle lets Cole through. But in Jim Washburn’s system, you play the run on the way to the quarterback. Cole has a chance for a tackle for loss.

But since he’s not sure if it’s a run or play-action, he’s just a split-second slow in attacking the ball-carrier, and Thomas sidesteps him.

Meanwhile, the Saints have blocks set up on Kurt Coleman, DeMeco Ryans and Rogers-Cromartie.

Sims hustles to the ball and eventually brings Thomas down after a 19-yard gain.

But look at Rodgers-Cromartie again unable to get off his block. He’s blocked out of bounds when the play is over. Talented cover corner, but not really much of an upgrade over Asante Samuel against the run.

By the way, I don’t think this is a matter of Rodgers-Cromartie quitting. He’s always played like this. The issues just become more obvious when the team is losing and the defense isn’t playing well.

Play 4: Graham did a nice job on the sack/forced fumble in the third, but the coverage was key. Take a look.

Brees wanted to go to the end zone, but the Eagles had Rodgers-Cromartie and Coleman on the lone receiver to that side. Meanwhile, Akeem Jordan did a nice job on the running back in the flat. Graham was able to get to Brees in (unofficially) 2.2 seconds to create the turnover.

Play 5: The Eagles gained some momentum in the third, cutting the lead to 21-13. On the ensuing drive, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-7, and Bowles went with a look we’ve seen multiple times this year with the defensive ends standing up as rush linebackers and the defensive tackles shifting out.

The Eagles often blitz out of this look, but here, they just sent four, and they got zero pressure. Brees had all day to find Moore for a 23-yard completion. Babin got to his feet, but wasn’t able to bring the quarterback down.

Brees had about 3.9 seconds to find his receiver. That’s way too much time, especially in a key third-and-long situation like this.

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Reid: I’m Not Thinking About 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidWith every Eagles loss, it’s impossible not to look ahead and think about Jeffrey Lurie’s comments about 8-8 not being good enough for Andy Reid to stay in 2013.

But the head coach insists his future isn’t weighing on his mind.

“You focus in on the job at hand,” Reid said. “You don’t get past that, so going past and thinking about records and futures and all those things, I know those are questions you guys have to ask. I understand that. But when you’re in this thing, you’re in it to practice everyday and every play to get yourself better. There’s no time to think about those things. I don’t think anybody’s worried about that. Guys are worried about getting themselves better to win football games, number one – coaches and players – and that’s what I see.”

Then again, what else is Reid supposed to say? He’s a professional, but of course he’s thought about what his future holds.

The task at hand right now appears to be working towards a miracle finish and salvaging a season that has gotten away from him. The Eagles have lost four in a row and have a -50 point differential, the worst mark in the NFC.

“Absolutely,” Reid said, when asked if he’s confident the Eagles can still turn their season around. “I like these players. I like what they represent. The coaches have to put it together and play as one.”

Is he worried about losing the locker room and players tuning him out if things continue to go badly?

“I think the way this football team’s wired, I don’t think that’ll happen,” Reid said. “They’re a close bunch and have good character so they’ll fight. They battled through last year – again it was too late – but they battled through last year and ended up winning some games. I’d expect they’d continue to battle through, and then good things will happen.”

As for injuries, the most notable one last night was to Todd Herremans, who suffered an ankle tendon strain. Herremans had an MRI, but Reid said he did not have the results yet. Demetress Bell filled in for Herremans and played poorly. If Danny Watkins returns (ankle), Dennis Kelly(who also played poorly) could get a shot at right tackle for Herremans.

Akeem Jordan has a slight groin strain. Nate Allen has a hamstring strain. And Mardy Gilyard has a hamstring strain. Jordan is the only one out of that group who played against the Saints.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Lions’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Lions’ offense:

1. The Lions enter Sunday’s game averaging 25 points per game, tied for 11th in the NFL. Last year, this group averaged 29.6. Football Outsiders has Detroit’s offense ranked sixth overall – eighth in passing and 10th in rushing. Matthew Stafford stayed healthy for the first time in 2011 and lit it up with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Lions can be one-dimensional, but when their passing game is clicking, they are tough to stop. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense has held opposing quarterbacks to just 53.6 percent completions, the second-best mark in the league. And opponents are averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt, tied for third-best.

2. While Stafford is completing an impressive 65.9 percent of his passes, the Lions are not picking up chunks of yardage through the air like they did last year. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, down from 7.6 in 2011. Stafford’s average pass length is 7.49 yards, which ranks 27th in the NFL. His average pass completion has gone 5.25 yards (29th). And according to Pro Football Focus, only 7.5 percent of Stafford’s pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield (30th). The point is that the Lions have not taken a lot of shots downfield through their first four games. It’s pretty much been Calvin Johnson or bust. On the flip side, last week against the Steelers, the Eagles allowed just one play of 20 yards or more, and it came on the final drive in the fourth quarter.

3. Megatron is obviously worth spending some time on in this space. The sixth-year receiver is coming off a monster season in which he set career highs with 96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 touchdowns and 17.5 yards per catch. This year, he’s been targeted 43 times through four games and has nine catches of 20+ yards, second-most in the NFL. Johnson is averaging 105.8 yards per game, which ranks third. He’s scored 29 touchdowns in his last 35 games. A couple numbers are down for Johnson. He’s averaging 14.6 yards per catch, which is off of last year’s pace (17.5). And he’s averaging 3.2 YAC, down from 5.5 last year. Overall, he’s arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game.

4. Last year, Johnson led the league with 32 catches of 20+ yards and 10 catches of 40+ yards. As a result, you can expect defenses to play their safeties in another zip code against the Lions. The Vikings did that for much of the game a couple weeks ago. On the surface, it looks like they contained Johnson. He finished with five catches for 54 yards. But throw in the fact that he drew two pass interference penalties for 60 yards, and clearly Johnson had an impact. One thing the Lions have done this year is move Johnson to the slot. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has spent 38.7 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot this year, compared to just 18.9 percent last year. That will be a key on Sunday. The Cardinals moved Larry Fitzgerald all around the formation, and the Eagles played him straight up. They got burned in the process. What will Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles decide on against Johnson? He’d have a huge size advantage (eight inches) against rookie Brandon Boykin. Then again, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both struggled playing inside last year. Asomugha told T-Mac that the Birds won’t have a generic game plan. While they will clearly pay extra attention to Johnson, what exactly Asomugha means is unclear.

“I don’t want to give away what we’re going to do,” Castillo said Thursday. “Hopefully we can talk about it after the game, and you can say, ‘Juan, that was a good game plan that you all had.'”

5. Here’s a look at the problems Johnson can pose in the slot.

The Vikings are in zone, and the linebackers bite on a play-fake. Johnson fights off a jam from the slot corner at the line of scrimmage and finds space in front of the safety. Stafford delivers the ball on time, and the Lions pick up 19.

A similar play later in the game – this time in the red zone

Again, Johnson finds the hole in the zone, and Stafford throws the ball high so that he can use his size and go up and get it.

The Vikings safeties close here and sandwich Johnson with a big hit. He can’t hold on to the ball, and the Lions have to settle for a field goal two plays later. But you get the point.

6. Of course, to hit on big plays to Johnson, the Lions need to protect Stafford. Their offensive line is old, but experienced. The same five guys have played every snap together so far this season At left tackle, Jeff Backus will match up against Trent Cole. Backus has started every game for Detroit since the start of the 2001 season, an incredible streak of 180 in a row. Last year, he was called for seven holding penalties, tied for third-most in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Cole, meanwhile, is coming off a quiet game against the Steelers. He has 1.5 sacks in five games, but leads the team with 19 hurries. At left guard, Rob Sims has started every game for the Lions since the start of 2010. Dominic Raiola, the center, has started all but four games for Detroit since 2002. And right guard Stephen Peterman has been with Detroit for seven seasons, having started every game since 2010. Other than Cullen Jenkins, the Eagles’ defensive tackles were a non-factor last week. They’ll need to generate more of an interior pass rush this week. At right tackle, Gosder Cherilus, a former first-round pick (2008), will match up against Jason Babin. Babin has 2.5 sacks and 18 hurries on the season. Brandon Graham, who led the team with five hurries last week, will also see time at left defensive end. As a group, the Lions have only been called for four holding penalties this season, second-fewest in the league. No Detroit offensive lineman has been flagged more than once all year.

7. The Lions have not gotten much from their run game. Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith and Joique Bell will likely all see action. Leshoure is averaging just 3.2  yards per carry; Smith 4.0; and Bell 3.1. Leshoure fumbled after a 14-yard run against the Vikings. The Lions have zero runs of 20+ yards on the season. The Eagles’ run defense had been good until last week, when Rashard Mendenhall averaged 5.8 yards per carry against them. This week, it looks like Akeem Jordan will return to the starting lineup, replacing Jamar Chaney. The truth is, when the passing game is clicking, the Lions don’t have a lot of interest in running the ball. They called passes 67 percent of the time last season, tops in the league, according to Football Outsiders. If the running game’s not working, look for the Lions to rely on shorter, high-percentage throws instead, including ones to the backs. Bell, specifically, has looked good in that aspect with 12 receptions for 175 yards, including a nice 23-yarder against the Vikings.

8. Other than Johnson, the Eagles will have to account for Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has been a limited practice participant with a knee injury. Pettigrew is second on the team in targets (35) and has 23 catches for 223 yards, but he’s also dropped five balls, according to Pro Football Focus. One of those drops came in the end zone against the Vikings a couple weeks ago. As a team, the Lions have dropped six balls on passes that have gone 10+ yards downfield, according to ESPN. Overall, the Eagles rank fifth in the league against tight ends and seventh against running backs, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Burleson has 22 catches for 200 yards. He’s lined up in the slot 46.8 percent of the time, according to PFF. And don’t be surprised to see an end around or reverse to Burleson. He has six rushes for 26 yards on the season.

9. The Lions went with an empty backfield 10 percent of the time last year, according to Football Outsiders, fourth-most in the league. But that doesn’t mean they will leave themselves vulnerable in pass protection against the Eagles. Take a look at this set-up from the Vikings game.

The tight end and running back line up next to the tackles and chip the defensive ends before going out into their pass routes. I’d guess Cole and Babin will have to deal with this look on more than one occasion.

10. Leftovers: Stafford’s thrown 20 interceptions in his last 20 starts, including four in four games this season. Two of those have been in the red zone. …Johnson is averaging a career-high 7.3 catches per game. …The Lions used a single back 81 percent of the time last year, second-most in the league. …They used three receivers or more 61 percent of the time, third-most.

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An Opening For Casey Matthews?

Andy Reid on Wednesday said that, assuming health, Akeem Jordan is his starting weakside linebacker. Jordan missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but is expected to be a go against Detroit this Sunday.

What is Plan B?

“We’ll just see. We have a variety of choices there because all those guys play all the positions, depending on that situation,” Reid said.

Jamar Chaney started at  WILL in Jordan’s absence with mixed results. Reid did not commit to Chaney being the backup there this week. That leaves open the possibility that Casey Matthews is in the mix.

Matthews played three snaps against the Steelers when Mychal Kendricks left briefly with a sprained ankle. He made two tackles in his brief appearance.

“I went to WILL so it was a little different. But they made it pretty simple,” said Matthews. “I was just fortunate to make a couple plays.

“I don’t know what it means going forward. Hopefully it meant something. It’s hard to tell.”

Matthews anticipates that he’ll continue to take reps as the backup middle linebacker behind DeMeco Ryans and that Chaney will remain the second option at weakside linebacker, though he hadn’t been told the plan as of Wednesday morning.

“It’s whatever the coaches want,” said Matthews. “I can only go out and take advantage of whatever limited opportunities I have.”

Matthews has settled in after a turbulent rookie season that saw him move from the middle to the outside and then ultimately, the bench. Now out of the starting lineup and the spotlight, the Oregon product has his feet more firmly under him and is hoping for another shot.

“Things have been coming easier in practice, rep wise, understanding what my responsibilities and why I have them,” said Matthews. “Last year was a little different. I understand why people are going to certain spots, things like that. Another year in the system just makes it that much easier, makes you more comfortable . And when you’re comfortable, things slow down.”

Hakeem Nicks Doubtful With Swollen Knee

For all the hype surrounding Victor Cruz‘s return to Lincoln Financial Field, it’s another Giants receiver who has been garnering the most attention inside the NovaCare walls.

“The first thing that Coach [Todd Bowles] said was, they’ve got a good pass attack but he pointed out [Hakeem] Nicks as being their complete receiver, or their number one receiver,” said Nnamdi Asomugha. “That’s what he kept saying: ‘This is the guy we’ve got to watch.’ Obviously in the slot when they come out and spread it, Victor starts to get more of the looks. But when they’re just playing base football? It’s a little more Nicks.”

Now it looks like their primary concern might not even take the field.

Nicks is listed as doubtful on the Giants injury report with a swollen knee. The 6-1 Nicks, coming off offseason foot surgery, was sidelined last Thursday against the Panthers. He practiced Thursday before this new injury cropped up.

Asomugha was given the news during a session with reporters Friday.

“Hmm,” he said. “I don’t know. That’s happened so many times. We’ll see.”

The rest of the Giants injury report looks like this:

Linebacker Keith Rivers, (hamstring), cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and right tackle David Diehl (knee) are all out. Cornerback Michael Coe (hamstring) and safety Antrel Rolle (knee) are questionable; running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), wide receiver Domenik Hixon (concussion), cornerback Corey Webster (hand) and defensive end Adewale Ojomo (hamstring) are all listed as probable for Sunday.

For the Eagles, King Dunlap and Akeem Jordan are out. That means Demetress Bell will get the nod once again at left tackle, and Jamar Chaney is expected to start at weakside linebacker. Riley Cooper suggested to reporters after practice that he will not play Sunday.

Jon Dorenbos (ankle) did practice, according to Andy Reid. His status is up in the air.

“I can’t tell you either way. He’s 50-50. He practiced today, though, and moved around pretty good,” said Reid.

Long-snapper Kyle Nelson was signed to the practice squad in case Dorenbos can’t go against the Giants.

Cooper, Dorenbos and Colt Anderson (knee) are all officially listed as questionable.

Jeremy Maclin (hip) is “ready to go,” Reid said.

Chaney Gets Nod Over Rolle At LB

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar ChaneyWith Akeem Jordan nursing a hamstring injury, Jamar Chaney will get the start at WILL linebacker Sunday night, according to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.

When Jordan went out last week against the Cardinals, Brian Rolle replaced him. But Chaney will get the nod against the Giants.

The Eagles have been in their base defense about 45 percent of the time through the first three weeks. Before the season started, Juan Castillo speculated that we could see the linebackers rotate quite a bit, but that hasn’t been the case. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have been three-down players, and that will continue as long as they’re healthy.

The Giants, meanwhile, have gone with at least three wide receivers on 58.9 percent of their offensive snaps. Those are the plays where Brandon Boykin will come in and Chaney will head to the sidelines.

A 16-game starter in 2011, Chaney has played just one defensive snap through three games. Jordan has been OK so far, but the truth is, if Chaney plays particularly well, he has a chance to hold on to the job.


The following players did not practice today: safety Colt Anderson (knee); long-snapper Jon Dorenbos (ankle); left tackle King Dunlap (hamstring); and Jordan (hamstring).

Everyone else, including Jeremy Maclin , Riley Cooper and Fletcher Cox, was listed as a full participant.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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