Eagles-Lions Wake-Up Call: Dave Birkett Q&A
In this week’s installment of opposition research, we talked to Lions beat writer Dave Birkett. We discussed Jim Schwartz’s return to Detroit, the Lions’ strengths and weaknesses and who will come out on top, among several other topics.
What are Detroit’s strengths?
“Not many through four games. They have some talent offensively. They don’t have a lot of big playmakers on that side of the ball after they lost Calvin Johnson, but with Marvin Jones, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron and Golden Tate, Matthew Stafford at least has a number of weapons to spread the ball around to. They haven’t played well defensively and it probably won’t show up in this game, but the defensive line should be a strength. But with Ziggy Ansah out the last couple of weeks — and he’s expected to miss this game as well — they haven’t been able to get much of a pass rush. He’s their best edge rusher by far and right now they’re living more off of depth on the defensive line than playmakers.”
What are Detroit’s weaknesses?
“The linebacker core has really been an issue since early on. They’ve just lost so many players to injury there. They’re playing their sixth or seventh linebacker as a starter right now. The offensive line is still a work in progress. They gave up 89 sacks the last two years and 10 so far this year. Left tackle Taylor Decker — they’re pretty high on him and I do think he’s going to be a pretty good player — is going through the usual rookie growing pains. By my count, he’s allowed four sacks, so the offensive line is holding the offense back a little bit.”
What are Detroit’s suspensions or injuries that could impact this game?
“Ansah for sure. He’s a guy who’s not expected to play. He’s got a high ankle sprain and missed the last two games, so he’s been out a while. As I mentioned, they don’t have a whole lot of playmakers on defense and he’s one of their true difference makers. They’ve really struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback without him. DeAndre Levy — their best linebacker — is not going to play. This is going to be the fourth straight game he’s missed with a quadriceps injury. Eric Ebron, ESPN reported he’s not expected to play. I don’t know that for sure, but he’s left three games this year with injuries so he’s been dealing with a bunch of nagging things — he’s got an ankle and a knee injury. They’re a little beat up on both sides of the ball right now.”
What’s life been like for the Lions after Calvin Johnson?
“Marvin Jones has been a good addition for them. He’s second in the NFL in receiving yards and he’s really their only true deep threat. He’s had some big games and big catches, but their problem offensively is they just don’t have a lot of other guys who can make plays down field. So they roll with a controlled passing game and try to nickel and dime their way down the field. They’ve sort of stalled when they’ve gotten into the red zone and I think that’s going to be an issue for them going forward.”
How is Jim Schwartz viewed in Detroit?
“It’s funny because when Schwartz left, I think fans were happy to get rid of him. He’s got a brash personality and the Lions seemed like they had teetered out, but now that they’re a couple of years removed from Schwartz, I think people started to appreciate what he did here a little bit more. He turned an 0-16 team into a playoff team in a couple of years. He really gave them an identify. I think maybe you don’t realize that in the moment when things aren’t going great, but now that some of their struggles have continued, I think people can appreciate that Jim knows how to call a defense and he knows how to fire some people up. Maybe he’s a little bit more appreciated than he was when he was pushed out the door a couple of years ago.”
Who do you think will win?
“I think I’ll pick the Eagles at the end of the day. The Lions are too beat up right now on both sides of the ball. They’re coming back home and they’ve played three of their first four on the road, so I don’t think it’s gonna be a walk in the park. Maybe the Eagles aren’t quite as good as their 3-0 record would indicate, but I do think they’re a better team. Given some of the Lions’ issues with injuries, I think the Eagles win by about six points.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I would say if it’s not 100, it’s probably 90 percent in this locker room.” Malcolm Jenkins on why he thinks many of his white teammates will vote for Donald Trump.
“As long as it’s not in direct conflict with the Eagles, I want those guys to win every week.” Jim Schwartz discusses his return to Detroit.
The former Lions head coach also talked about Nigel Bradham and his recent arrest.
Who did our writers pick in this week’s games?
“But I think the deeper you go, you increase it a little bit more.” Carson Wentz is learning from Russell Wilson and Cam Newton.
Eagles-Lions preview via BGN Radio.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
With a possible Lane Johnson suspension looming, rookie tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai has vastly improved since training camp, pens Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and assistant offensive line coach Eugene Chung have liked what they have seen of Vaitai in practice since the season has begun.
“He’s getting a lot of reps versus a very good defense and versus a very good defensive line,” said Reich. “And when we’re running scout team, I mean, we’re paying attention to that. Stout and Eugene are paying attention and watching ‘V’ and coaching him go against our first-team defensive line. That certainly gives you indicators because when you’re running scout team the defense is going full speed, they’re going hard. So, it’s really a good measure. That’s why we push our guys. Those guys that run scout team, it’s a good opportunity for them as well.”
Reich said he started to see the light go on for Vaitai during the preseason games.
“It’s just been gradual,” he said. “I started to see it in preseason to be honest with you – a couple of the preseason games. As the preseason games went on, you could see him getting better and better. Again, it’s what we expected, but you could definitely see the progression go as each preseason game went on and he got more reps.”
The Eagles hope to get Darren Sproles involved every week, according to Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com.
When [Doug] Pederson, Reich and the offensive coaches sit down each week to figure out how to get Sproles involved, they first look at what worked for Pederson as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City. With the Chiefs, Pederson had a dynamic playmaker in Jamaal Charles.
While Sproles said he and Charles are two different players, they still share some of the same skillset, as running backs who can create mismatches because of their pass-catching ability and shiftiness.
“Boom, let’s start there, because this is kind of already built into the system,” Reich said. “And then you sometimes see something on tape or maybe somebody else on the staff — there’s an idea or two that comes into it, and you look for matchups, you look how you can get them when they’re in man coverage, who is he going to be matched up on, what routes does Darren run best versus man coverage from the backfield, from closer to the line of scrimmage, and then just try to pick one or two or three of those each week.
“You don’t want to overdo it. You just don’t want to overdo it, you want to take a couple and create a couple big moments there and then spread the ball around from there to the other guys, as well.”
Doug Pederson will address the media at 10:15.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.