I think Jim Schwartz’s defense is going to have to be a bigger factor than usual for the Eagles to win this week.
You’ll hear a lot about how the Eagles will win because they can’t afford to lose, heading into Green Bay Thursday, looking squarely at a 1-3 September if they can’t beat Aaron Rodgers. Like the credit card business, the NFL unfortunately does not run strictly on what you can afford.
The Lions (1-0-1) and Matthew Stafford are perfectly capable of torching Ronald Darby and co. a few times. I think the Eagles might want to run a ball-control offense, keep their defense off the field, grind out a win. The Lions’ run defense is ranked 26th (yeah, after two weeks, but it’s all we have) giving up 5.2 yards per carry. Their pass rushers have six sacks. (The Eagles have two sacks.)
Grind it out. But mainly, win, so that the entire fanbase doesn’t melt down before Phillies season is over.
Prediction: Eagles 20, Lions 16.
A qualifier: I’m making this prediction based on the assumption that Zach Ertz, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins won’t get injured either before the game or in the first quarter. If they do, this prediction will self-destruct and you can start focusing on the Sixers and Flyers.
The Eagles need to get this slow-start thing fixed, and right away. That goes for both the offense and Jim Schwartz’s defense, which gave up points to the Redskins on their first three possessions in Week 1 and an 11-play first-possession scoring drive to the Falcons last week.
The Lions’ new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, wants to run the ball. His offense has 60 rushing attempts in the first two games. But the Eagles defense is pretty good against the run and Matthew Stafford isn’t particularly good on third-and-long. Since 2015, he has an 83.2 passer rating on third-and-6 or more.
Then again, the Eagles defense hasn’t been very good against the pass in their first two games. They have just two sacks and are 31st in passing yards allowed (340 per game) and TD passes allowed (6). So the strong-armed Stafford might have a field day Sunday.
I think being back at the Linc will help the Eagles. I think they’ll be able to get some of their run game problems worked out against a Lions defense that is giving up 5.2 yards per carry. Which will mean a more balanced offense than that 21-run play, 51-pass play nonsense of last week. Which will mean a more effective – and healthier – Carson Wentz.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Lions 21
When I hear any coach talk about winning with defense and running the football, I assume they’ll become just another example of Jerry Glanville’s long-ago saying that the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Matt Patricia hasn’t exactly sold that bill of goods to the Lions, but that’s the kind of team he’s built and I imagine he’ll end up like most former Bill Belichick assistants: Not head coaches for very long.
Which brings us to Doug Pederson and his current predicament. He’ll be down his top two receivers Sunday, which has brought out the ball control dinosaurs who insist the best way the Eagles can win against Detroit is to pound the football and win time of possession. Hey, I’m all for some ground attack, but I don’t want to take the ball out of Carson Wentz’s hands too often, especially when he still has Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor on the field.
I also expect that, given a full week of preparation, receivers Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will be better than they were when thrown into the fire at Atlanta. I’d be worried of about Isaac Seumalo and the slow starts, but I think the Eagles have more than enough firepower against a suspect Lions defense.
Jim Schwartz had a strong game plan last week. He just dialed up one zero blitz too many. In theory, he shouldn’t need to send extra rushers vs. Detroit’s offensive line, but the Eagles’ front four hasn’t been getting home enough. Even with the injuries at defensive tackle, I think this is the game the d-line breaks out. Fletcher Cox is too good to be shutout for more than two games.