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Eagles have to fix defensive lapses, and fast

There have been weeks this season when Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis appreciated every minute between games and his players could bask in the shine that comes in the days after stifling an opponent.

Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

There have been weeks this season when Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis appreciated every minute between games and his players could bask in the shine that comes in the days after stifling an opponent.

But in the few days before Thanksgiving, Davis seemed thankful that the Eagles had a short week. Coming off a pitiful showing last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only good news for the Eagles defense is that the bad taste in their mouths had little time to linger.

The Eagles play on Thursday against the Detroit Lions, and the defense will show whether last Sunday was an aberration or a sign that Davis' unit should remain on the growing list of problems with the Eagles.

"I'm glad we have a short week because of that performance," Davis said. "Had we had one of our better ones, I probably would have said, 'No, I would like more time.' Trying to get that behind you and put it to bed. Give it the attention it's due, fix it, get it right, but move on. We have a confident group of guys and we'll get it fixed."

The defense needs to demonstrate improvement against a Lions offense that is 25th of 32 NFL teams in yards per game (336.4), 29th in points per game (18.5), and last in rushing yards per game (71.1). That last number should be welcome considering the Eagles allowed 283 rushing yards on Sunday.

The Bucs had rushes of 84, 58, and 27 yards, and another long rush that the Eagles viewed as a short pass. Those plays received most of Davis' attention when he reviewed the film. He didn't object to how the Eagles looked on most of the other running plays.

"I guess the good news is that 38 of them don't need fixing," Davis said, "but those three damn well have to be fixed."

For the players, those exceptions offered little consolation. The run defense had problems before Tampa Bay, too. The three biggest rushing games the Eagles allowed came in the last four games.

"They shouldn't have happened in my mind," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. So there's no consolation, there's no being happy that it wasn't all the runs. That's not the way I look at it."

Better play from the Eagles inside linebackers will help the run defense. Davis has maintained a rotation with Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and Mychal Kendricks ever since Jordan Hicks' injury, but the Eagles are managing the workloads of Alonso and Ryans after injuries. Alonso said he's healthy, but he has not appeared to be the player advertised since coming back from a five-week layoff because of a knee injury.

"Is Kiko where he was in his rookie year? No," Davis said. "He hasn't been on the field practicing or playing. But there is growth there. Kiko is a good football player that flies around to the ball. . . . I have nothing but confidence in Kiko. He will get better as he plays."

The strength of the Lions offense is their passing attack. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the league, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson remains one of the game's best even at 30 years old.

The Lions are eighth in the NFL with 265 passing yards per game. But those numbers have progressed since an 0-5 start. The Lions have won three of their past five games, a span that includes a change at offensive coordinator and Stafford taking better care of the ball. He had six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the first five games, and nine touchdowns and four interceptions in the past five games. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles last week.

Johnson, at 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, has the size that compares to the Bucs wide receivers that gave the Eagles problems last week. He also has at least five catches and 80 yards in the past five games. The Eagles will use both Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll on Johnson because the Eagles like to keep their cornerbacks on the left and right side.

"He's different just in the fact that he's fast," Carroll said. "A lot of the bigger receivers aren't as fast. They run a good 4.4, 4.5 [-second 40-yard dash.] Calvin runs a 4.3. . . . For him being a big-bodied guy, he's still able to move getting in and out of his breaks. And Stafford's looking for him. He does a good job catching the ball, has strong hands."

The key for the Eagles will be to pressure Stafford, which limits the Lions' vertical passes and could help the Eagles force turnovers. The Lions offensive line has allowed 26 sacks this season. It could be an opportunity for outside linebackers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin, two Detroit natives with lifelong knowledge of the Motor City's Thanksgiving tradition.

"It's a big one for me," Graham said. "Growing up, I used to always say I wanted to play for the Lions on Thanksgiving. Now that I'm playing against them on Thanksgiving, it's that much sweeter because I have so many people in my family that are Lions fans. . . . To go out there and give them an 'L, and then eat some food, would be great. I just hope we take care of business."