Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Dave Birkett’s scouting report and prediction

Detroit Free Press

Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) at Detroit Lions (0-7)

The coaches: Lions-Dan Campbell (5-14 overall, 0-7 with Lions); Eagles-Nick Sirianni (2-5 overall, 2-5 with Eagles).

Last game: Lions lost to Los Angeles Rams, 28-19. Eagles lost to Las Vegas Raiders, 33-22.

Last meeting: Sept. 22, 2019: Lions won, 27-24.

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Key matchups

Eagles CB Darius Slay vs. Lions WR Kalif Raymond: There are better individual matchups than this one, and if the Eagles follow the Rams’ lead, they will use their best cornerback some on tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift. But Slay will play his first game at Ford Field since he was traded to the Eagles in March of 2020. A fan favorite during his time in Detroit, Slay probably would still be a Lion if not for the way he was treated by former coach Matt Patricia. Raymond has emerged as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver and the only thing remotely resembling a deep threat on their roster, but he won’t have an easy go of it against Slay, who Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said is playing good football.

Lions OLB Julian Okwara vs. Eagles RT Lane Johnson: Okwara has played some of the best football of his young career the past two weeks, logging sacks against the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals and providing steady pass rush when he’s been on the field. Johnson is battling an ankle injury and recently returned from a mental break, but he remains a top pass protector. The Lions want to get after young Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has taken 14 sacks in seven games, but they must be cognizant of their rushing lanes or Hurts will destroy them with his legs.

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Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Eagles run defense

The Lions have gone into every game this season determined to establish the run, and Sunday should be no different against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL.

D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams form a nice 1-2 punch out of the backfield, though Swift has done most of his damage in the pass game. Williams is questionable to play with a thigh injury. If he is limited, Swift will see a higher volume of work and rookie Jermar Jefferson could get his first meaningful action of the season. The Lions have not been great in short-yardage rushing situations, but they tend to have good success running behind the left side of their offensive line.

The Eagles have allowed more than 100 yards rushing in every game this season despite playing a handful of the worst rushing teams in the NFL. Fletcher Cox fronts a deep defensive line, though first-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has not always put him in the best position to succeed. Edge: Lions

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Lions pass offense vs. Eagles pass defense

The Lions have one of the most anemic passing offenses in the NFL, but this is a chance to get well against an Eagles team that has myriad problems defensively.

Jared Goff has 10 turnovers in seven games, more than 21 NFL teams, and he continues to rank last in intended air yards per target. The Lions do not have a field-stretching presence in their receiving corps, so Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson are left to do most of the heavy lifting. Lynn said he needs to do a better job of scheming open deep shots, and the Lions must protect better up front when those plays are dialed up.

The Eagles play a lot of two-deep zone coverage and rank 29th in the NFL in sack rate with their passive approach to pass rush. Cox can be a wrecking ball up front and Javon Hargrave already has six sacks, but opponents are completing a league-best 74.4% of their passes against the Eagles this year. Edge: Eagles

Eagles run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Eagles are a weird offensive team in that they have one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks on a yards-per-carry basis (5 ypc) but are among the least committed teams to running the football (23.4 rushes per game).

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Hurts is Philadelphia’s leading rusher with 361 yards and five touchdowns on an array of designed carries and broken plays. He’s an excellent athlete who must be accounted for even on passing plays. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell should start at running back with Miles Sanders on injured reserve. Gainwell has just 26 carries (for 120 yards) this season but is an effective receiver out of the backfield.

The Lions held the best running quarterback in the NFL, Lamar Jackson, in check earlier this season, spying him often when their secondary was in man coverage. Last week, they limited the Rams to 47 yards on the ground. Michael Brockers and Alim McNeill lead a good and deep defensive line, but the Lions will miss nickel cornerback A.J. Parker in run support if he can’t play because of a neck injury. Edge: Lions

Eagles pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

One thing Philadelphia has going for it on offense is speed. The Eagles rank second on ESPN’s list of fastest teams, according to player-tracking data, and while some of that is because of Hurts’ athleticism, they do have multiple deep threats in their receiving corps.

Rookie DeVonta Smith leads Philadelphia with 32 catches for 406 yards, and Quez Watkins is averaging an impressive 19.3 yards per catch. While Smith is more talented than any Lions receiver and Watkins has more field-stretching ability, the Eagles’ passing game is similar to the Lions in that the receiving corps lacks big-time playmakers and Hurts leans on his running back (Gainwell) and tight end (Dallas Goedert) to help move the ball.

The Lions have given up seven pass plays of 40-plus yards, tied for second most in the league. It is imperative they do not have any major coverage busts Sunday because the Eagles struggle to sustain drives given their youth and lack of a running game. If Parker can’t go, some combination of Bobby Price, Mark Gilbert and Dean Marlowe will take his reps in the secondary. Edge: Eagles

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Special teams

Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is in COVID protocols and could miss Sunday’s game, but he was involved in game-planning and the Lions showed last week just how dangerous their special teams can be. The Lions do not need to be as daring in the kicking game this week, and should be able to rely on the legs of punter Jack Fox and kicker Austin Seibert when they have a chance. Fox is netting an impressive 45.4 yards per punt, which is better than last season when he set a franchise record in the category. Seibert has not missed a kick since Week 1. The Lions could be better on kick returns, but overall they have one of the most dependable special teams units in the league.

The Eagles have a league-average special teams unit according to Football Outsiders’ composite special teams rankings. Arryn Siposs, who lost a training camp battle to Fox to be the Lions’ punter last fall, has kicked well in Philadelphia this season, and the Eagles have blocked one punt this season. The speedy Jalen Reagor handles returns, though he has not delivered many big plays this season. And Jake Elliott is seven for nine on field goals, though he has been shaky from beyond 50 yards throughout his career. Edge: Lions

Prediction

If the Lions can’t beat a bad Eagles team at home, with some of the turmoil going in Philadelphia, it does not bode well for their chances of winning many other games this year. The Eagles are kind of a mess, with Cox calling out defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for misusing him on screen plays and Sirianni going deep with a gardening metaphor. The Lions have played above their talent level at times this year and desperately need a win to feel good going into next week’s bye. Their recipe for getting one is to put the ball in Swift’s hands as much as possible, and don’t let Hurts beat them with his legs. Pick: Lions 23, Eagles 17.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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