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

Detroit Free Press

Breaking down the Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles matchup at Ford Field in Detroit to open Week 1 of the 2022 NFL regular season:

The coaches: Lions — Dan Campbell (8-20-1 overall, 3-13-1 with Lions); Eagles — Nick Sirianni (9-8 overall, 9-8 with Eagles).

Last game: Regular-season opener for both teams.

Last meeting: Oct. 31, 2021: Eagles won, 44-6.

Key matchups

Lions C Frank Ragnow vs. Eagles DT Javon Hargrave: Ragnow suffered a groin injury in practice this week, but there is optimism he will play after returning to practice Friday. When healthy, Ragnow is one of the best centers in the NFL. He missed most of last season with a foot injury, however, and the groin injury will make his tough task of blocking one of the best interior defensive lines in football even more difficult. Hargrave had 7.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last season, but did not play this preseason because of a toe injury. It’s not just him the Lions have to worry about, either. Fletcher Cox has game-wrecking ability at defensive tackle and rookie Jordan Davis is an athletic freak.

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Eagles WR A.J. Brown vs. Lions CB Jeff Okudah: The Lions’ first objective is to stop Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ multi-dimensional rushing attack, but even if they do that, Philadelphia has potent weapons in the passing game. Acquired in a draft-day trade with the Tennessee Titans, Brown has averaged 16.2 yards per catch for his career and is one of the more physical receivers in football. Okudah won the starting left cornerback job after a camp battle with Will Harris. He’s long and physical, but is returning from a torn Achilles tendon and should be challenged early.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Eagles run defense

The Lions want to control games with their rushing attack, and that will not change even with their offensive line in flux. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams give the Lions a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield, though Swift should get the majority of the touches as he begins his quest for a dual 1,000-yard rushing and receiving season.

The Eagles finished ninth in the NFL against the run (107.9 yards per game) and sixth in yards per carry (4.0) last season, but their rush defense was a sieve early in the season. The Lions had a much more strenuous training camp, and that could bear fruit late in the game if they can wear Philadelphia’s defensive front down.

From a personnel standpoint, Cox and Hargrave must be accounted on every snap. Cox is a mountain up front at 6 feet 4 and 310 pounds, and that duo provides cover for the Eagles’ new-look linebacking corps led by Nakobe Dean and Kyzir White. If the Lions truly want to establish the run, this could be a game where No. 2 tight end Brock Wright gets heavy play time. Edge: Lions

Lions pass offense vs. Eagles pass defense

The Lions did a good job concealing their new offense this summer, keeping their passing game mostly vanilla in three preseason games. First-year coordinator Ben Johnson has meshed his own philosophies with concepts Campbell brought over from the New Orleans Saints and ideas senior offensive assistant Johnnie Morton had from his time with Jon Gruden. Expect lots of motions and play-action, and the Lions will use tempo to control pace of play.

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Jared Goff struggled in his first season in Detroit, but seemed much more at ease this summer. It helps that he’s surrounded by a better cast of talent. Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson are healthy after missing time last season, DJ Chark adds a deep threat on the outside at receiver, and Amon-Ra St. Brown was a playmaking force the final six games of last season.

The Eagles played a lot of two-deep zone coverage last season and relied primarily on their four-man line for a pass rush. Hargrave is a blur inside, and new addition Haason Reddick gives Josh Sweat another partner off the edge. James Bradberry joins Darius Slay as a starting cornerback, so the Eagles are more equipped to challenge teams with man coverage in the secondary this year. Edge: Eagles

Eagles run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Eagles led the NFL in rushing at 159.7 yards per game last season and had five games with more than 200 yards on the ground. The mobile Hurts is a big reason for their success. He is a threat on both scramble plays and designed runs, and he found the end zone 10 times on the ground.

As dangerous as Hurts is on the quarterback pull off the zone read, the Eagles can chew up yards on the ground in a number of ways. Miles Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and is expected to play after missing time this preseason with a hamstring injury, and Kenneth Gainwell is a solid No. 2 back who benefits from running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

The Lions struggled to contain rushing quarterbacks in their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, though they did little game-planning that day. Last year, the Eagles amassed 236 yards on 46 carries, and Campbell said he is preparing for a similar attack Sunday. Alim McNeill is the Lions’ best interior run defender, and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez should play a big role at linebacker. Edge: Eagles

Eagles pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Hurts was below-average as an NFL passer the past two seasons, but reports out of Philadelphia indicate he has made big strides with his footwork and accuracy. It helps, too, that he has a better cast of weapons around him.

DeVonta Smith led the Eagles with 64 catches, 916 yards and five receiving touchdowns as a rookie, but the Eagles have overhauled the rest of their receiving corps. Brown joins Smith as a co-No. 1 option, Zach Pascal adds another vertical threat to the offense, and Quez Watkins and tight end Dallas Goedert are dangerous in the middle of the field.

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The Lions have the makings of a dangerous pass rush with rookie No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson playing opposite Charles Harrison their new four-man front. Hutchinson flashed enormous potential in the preseason and should be an immediate impact player. There are more questions in the back end with Okudah returning from injury opposite Amani Oruwariye. The Lions tied for 22nd in the NFL in interceptions last season and could use a few takeaways Sunday. Edge: Eagles

Special teams

The Lions had one of the best special teams units in football last season, but as is often the case in the kicking game, they will break in a lot of new faces this year. Kalif Raymond is expected to handle punt return duties again, but special teams coordinator Dave Fipp declined to name a kick returner. Craig Reynolds is the only player on the 53-man roster who had a return in the preseason, so he could get the job. Jack Fox remains one of the steadiest punters in the NFL, and the Lions picked the strong-legged Austin Seibert as their placekicker. The Lions were aggressive with fake punts and onside kicks last season, and in Week 1 that is something to keep an eye on.

The Eagles ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in Rick Gosselin’s composite special teams rankings for 2021, but they have a reliable kicker in Jake Elliott. Elliott made 30 of 33 field goals last season, including all three of his attempts from 50-plus yards. Arryn Siposs, who lost a training camp battle to Fox in 2020, will handle punting duties again after netting 38.7 yards per punt last season. And the speedy Watkins is expected to replace Jalen Reagor on returns. Edge: Lions

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Prediction

The Lions have not forgotten the butt-kicking they took from the Eagles last fall, with assistant head coach Duce Staley telling reporters Friday, “it would be real good to go out there and smack them in the mouth a little bit” as payback. I cannot discount that possibility, not with a sell-out crowd expected at Ford Field and the energy that comes with a season-opener. This Lions team is much better than the one that lost, 44-6, to the Eagles last season, but they still have questions throughout their defense and the injuries on their offensive line are a major concern. I don’t expect Philadelphia to have nearly the same kind of success it had running the football last season, but the Eagles are a more talented team and that’s enough to give them the edge in Week 1. Pick: Eagles 27, Lions 24.

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

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