Eagles-Lions Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Eagles travel to Detroit on Sunday to take on the Lions at 1 p.m. Here’s how we expect it to play out:
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
Josh: Darren Sproles.
After Theo Riddick gave Mychal Kendricks and the Eagles linebackers trouble out of the backfield last year, I expect Sproles to return the favor this year. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions rank in the bottom-third of the NFL in defending running backs in passing situations, which makes sense as injuries have depleted Detroit’s group of linebackers. Detroit is playing their sixth or seventh linebacker right now as a starter, per Lions beat writer Dave Birkett.
After a slow first two games, Sproles exploded for 128 receiving yards against the Steelers. His ability to extend plays after the catch is unparalleled among players on the Eagles’ roster, so it’s fair to expect Doug Pederson and his staff will draw up plays to get Sproles one-on-one against Lions linebackers.
“Right away when (Pederson) and I sit down and the whole staff and we start talking about the game plan: ‘How are we going to get Darren the ball this week?'” Frank Reich said. “That’s always very early in the discussion. When you’ve got a guy like that, that’s what we want to do. He’s that kind of player, so we’re going to design plays that are going to go to him, and then we figure he’s going to get three or four in his normal rotation as well. But you want to look for opportunities. He’s a playmaker, and yeah, we’re thinking about that every week.”
DeMarco Murray caught seven passes for 56 yards when the Titans beat the Lions in Week 2, and Sproles could put up a similar stat line on Sunday. Perhaps it’s one of the tight ends who benefits the most from matching up with the Lions’ linebackers, but the Eagles have expressed a clear commitment to getting Sproles involved.
BLG: Zach Ertz.
Ertz is set to return to the field for the first time since finishing Philadelphia’s Week 1 game with a displaced rib. The return of Ertz means that, for the first time all season, the Eagles will be able to run actual three tight end sets. Matt Tobin filled in nicely as a blocking tight end but it’s obvious he’s not a receiving threat.
Dating back to last season, Ertz has been a very productive option in the passing attack. He has 41 receptions for 508 yards (12.4 average) and one touchdown in his last five games played. Expect Carson Wentz to target him early and often against a Lions defense that’s been really bad at covering tight ends. Detroit has allowed 18 touchdowns to that position in their last 20 games. Here’s a week-by-week look at the numbers they’ve allowed to tight ends so far this season.
Week 1 at Colts – 7 receptions, 88 yards, 3 touchdowns
Week 2 vs. Titans – 8 receptions, 91 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 3 at Packers – 4 receptions, 37 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 4 at Lions – 5 receptions, 41 yards, 1 touchdown
That’s good for a grand total of 24 receptions for 257 yards and six scores. The Eagles will certainly looking to exploit Detroit’s depleted linebacking corps by throwing to the tight ends.
OVER/UNDER: 3.5 sacks for the Eagles — Whaddya got?
I’ve been going back and forth on this, but I think the Birds record four sacks for the second consecutive game — which would be an impressive mark. The Eagles are in the top-10 in the NFL in sacks, while the Lions are in the bottom ten in sacks allowed. According to Lions beat writer Dave Birkett, left tackle Taylor Decker has given up four sacks alone.
Both Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are returning home to Detroit, and I anticipate those two will turn in good performances, while Fletcher Cox will cause disruption as he always does up the middle. Plus, when you give Jim Schwartz some extra time to prepare against his former team, he’ll unveil some new pressure looks against the Lions. Schwartz won’t change his overarching philosophy of rarely blitzing, but he will likely have some newly disguised pressure packages.
The opportunity for four sacks (or more) will be there. The Lions like to throw the ball a lot. Detroit ranks ninth in pass attempts per game. Jim Caldwell doesn’t rely heavily on the run. The Lions have the sixth fewest rushing attempts per game. And even if the Lions did decide to switch it up and go with a run-heavy attack, it’s hard to see them having a lot of success with it. Philadelphia’s run defense has been very good.
Forcing the Lions into a one-dimensional passing attack will give Philadelphia’s pass rushers plenty of chances to get bring down Matthew Stafford. A few Eagles coaches and players have talked about how Stafford has been more mobile this year than he has in the past, so that’s something to keep an eye on. He’s not a statue in the pocket. Still, the Eagles have a lot of pass rushing talent and they should be able to excel against a Detroit offensive line that ranks 18th in adjusted sack rate.
Josh: Eagles 24, Lions 10.
I’ve heard rumblings of a few people calling this a “trap” game for Birds, but they have so many things going for them heading into Sunday it’s hard to keep them all straight. First, the injured Lions who aren’t expected to play: Ziggy Ansah, Detroit’s best pass rusher; DeAndre Levy, Detroit’s best linebacker; and Eric Ebron, Detroit’s No. 2 pass-catcher. Meanwhile, every Eagle is expected to be available.
Then you have the matchups: An outstanding Eagles defensive line against a struggling Lions offensive line; a Philadelphia offense which leads the NFL with zero giveaways against a Detroit defense ranked last with just one takeaway; and a productive group of Eagles tight ends and running backs who are threats as receivers against a depleted collection of Lions linebackers.
And finally, you have this simple fact: The Eagles are better coached and more talented than the Lions. One indication of how well Pederson prepares for games is how the Birds have scored points on each of their opening drives this season. On the other side of the ball, players praise Schwartz for his in-game adjustments, which they say is part of the reason the defense hasn’t given up a second-half touchdown in the first three games.
I expect Wentz to continue to take care of the ball, while the Lions struggle to move the ball down the field and punch it into the end zone.
BLG: Eagles 30, Lions 13.
The Eagles really *should* win this game. On paper, they’re the better team. Philadelphia owns the best point differential in the NFL (+65). Wentz is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Jim Schwartz’s defense has only allowed 20 points through three games.
In addition, the Eagles have the benefit of extra rest in this matchup. Philadelphia is coming off their bye while Detroit just suffered a Week 4 loss to a bad Bears team. The Lions will be missing several key starters in this game while the Eagles are at full health.
As discussed earlier this week, Detroit’s defense is dreadful. Teryl Austin’s unit ranks dead last in the NFL by Football Outsiders. The Lions have allowed the second most yards per play in the league. Wentz and the Eagles offense shouldn’t struggle to exploit this group.
Now, this game might not be a total walk in the park for the Birds. The Eagles are on the road so they’ll have to deal with crowd noise and a hostile environment. There’s also the fact that the Lions offense has put up some good numbers despite the team’s poor 1-3 record. Detroit is averaging the sixth most passing yards per game. They can move the ball.
Still, there should be confidence in Schwartz’s defense to shut the Lions down. The Eagles have allowed the sixth fewest passing yards and third least rushing yards to this point. The former Lions head coach might say he has no hard feelings towards his former team, but he’ll be eager to get a win this week.
Ultimately, the feeling here is the Eagles will win fairly comfortably and advance to 4-0.