Early Birds: Eagles-Lions predictions
1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: Hello, wide nine, my old friend. The Eagles will once again encounter the old defensive scheme that former defensive line coach Jim Washburn brought to Philly in 2011. We all know remember how that ended. It wasn't as much the scheme as it was the personnel that sunk that defense. The Eagles didn't have the right pieces at middle linebacker and safety to fill the run gaps the wide nine left to those players. Washburn is just a helper assistant with the Lions, but the scheme is essentially the same. The big difference: the Lions have a middle linebacker (Stephen Tulloch) and safeties (Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo) that are stout run stoppers. The Eagles' blockers need to take those second-level defenders out to get DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles going on the ground. The Lions have the necessary talent on the edge to make the wide nine work from a pass rush standpoint. Ziggy Ansah is a handful. Only Jason Peters' back seems to know if he'll be able to start on Thursday. Jason Jones and swing defense end and former Eagle Darryl Tapp are high motor guys. The Lions' Achilles heel is in coverage. If the rush doesn't get home Tulloch, Ihedigbo and cornerback Nevin Lawson are susceptible vs. the pass.
Zach Berman: For all the criticism that the Eagles' defense has endured, I'm not letting the offense the hook. They have failed to score in the 20s in three of the past four games. That's not a winning formula. Detroit's defense has held Green Bay and Oakland – two good offenses – to 16 points and 13 points, respectively, during the past two weeks. That's not a good sign for the Eagles. It sounds like Mark Sanchez will start, and Zach Ertz and Ryan Matthews. I'd expect Brent Celek to be a big target again, and Jordan Matthews to be more involved against Lions slot cornerback Quandre Diggs. Murray had his second best yards-per-rush average last week, and will be more involved if the game remains closer. It's obvious to say Sanchez cannot afford to throw interceptions, but he'll be under pressure if the Eagles can't block Ansah. I think the Eagles score more than the Packers and Raiders, but I don't know if you can expect an offensive onslaught – at least not with the way the offense has looked in recent weeks.
2. How will the defense do?
McLane: As poorly as the Lions offense has played this season, they still have weapons capable of going off at any moment. Receiver Calvin Johnson (59 catches for 828 yards) is still a force. Can the Eagles afford to double Megatron? The only other time they consistently doubled a receiver this season was against the Giants' Odell Beckham and it worked. If Bill Davis decides to have one of his safeties over the top of Johnson, the Lions still have capable options elsewhere. Receiver Golden Tate has struggled this season, but he still bears watching. Theo Riddick is effective out of the backfield. But can Matthew Stafford get them the ball consistently? He's had a rough season. He was benched once. But he has been sharper the last five weeks. He has four interceptions over that span after tossing eight in the first five games. It hasn't been all Stafford's fault. The Lions offensive line is among the worst in the NFL. Stafford's already been sacked 26 times. The line also hasn't done a particularly good job of opening holes on the ground. The Lions are averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. Rookie Ameer Abdullah has talent, but he really hasn't had many opportunities to display it. It's safe to say the Eagles probably won't allow another offense to rush for nearly 300 yards this week.
Berman: The Lions' receivers are what the Eagles must worry about entering Thursday's game. Johnson and Tate are a dangerous combination, and Eric Ebron has talent as a tight end who can also shift to the slot. The Eagles likely won't play left and right cornerbacks, so you'll see both Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll covering Johnson. That will be a tough test – a similar one to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson last week, but with more speed. It will be important for the Eagles to pressure Stafford. That line is not a strength, but the Eagles' pass rush has been inconsistent. I agree that the Eagles won't allow nearly 300 rushing yards this week, but they need to be less than half of that. The Lions have the worst rushing offense in the league. Abdullah is a talented player, but if he has a big game, then this rushing defense is broken.
3. Who's a player to watch?
McLane: With Zach Ertz likely out with a concussion, Brent Celek will continue to be more involved in the passing game. He could have success when matched against Tulloch. Celek has 11 catches for 213 yards over the last two weeks. He's still a threat downfield. Third string tight end Trey Burton should also be one to watch, especially if Kelly continues to utilize his two-tight end package. He's not as big as Ertz or Celek and could struggle blocking some of the Lions' ends.
Berman: Give me Murray. The Eagles' offense is best when there's a strong running game, and they can work the playaction and tempo off the running backs. The Lions have the 24th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. The Eagles signed Murray expecting him to be a top back, but he's been far too inconsistent this season. On Thanksgiving last year, Murray had 10 100-yard games. This year, he only has one.
4. What's your prediction?
McLane: I keep thinking the Eagles are better than they've shown and I keep getting it wrong. Any NFL team can win on any given week and that is why the Buccaneers shouldn't have been underestimated. But for the Eagles to lose by 28 points was a shock. The defense had been relatively stout all season. There were never questions about effort. But they were out-schemed and out-played on Sunday. I don't think we'll see a repeat performance here. They do have issues, though. The inside linebacker play is substandard, the pass rush limp and cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Byron Maxwell only have the capabilities to hold up for so long. But the real issues are on offense. The Eagles are weak at guard and they're weak at receiver. There is no changing that. It has limited what Chip Kelly can call and it has allowed defenses to focus on their attentions on taking away the things the Eagles do right. The Eagles certainly have enough to beat another losing team in the Lions. But there is too much doubt about this team right now to convincingly pick them to win in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Lions 27, Eagles 20.
Berman: The Lions have won two straight and the Eagles have lost two straight. It's a quick turnaround, and the game is in Detroit. The Eagles are likely playing with a backup quarterback and without two of their top offensive players. All of those signs seem to give the Lions the edge. At the beginning of the season, I picked a Lions win here. The Lions are worse than I anticipated, but so are the Eagles. The matchups aren't favorable for either side. That's why Vegas doesn't have a favorite at this point. I don't have a good feel for this game, and the Eagles need it badly and seem to think they're just a few plays away from emerging. But I can't pick the Eagles until they give a reason to pick them. Give me Lions 24, Eagles 23.