Detroit Lions defense falls flat in loss to Eagles: ‘Got to be a lot better in all areas’

Detroit Free Press

There were no silver linings in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, not for Amon-Ra St. Brown and not for the Detroit Lions.

The Lions lost to the Eagles, 38-35, in a game that was more competitive than last year’s 44-6 blowout, but followed a similar disappointing script.

The Eagles gobbled up chunks of yards on the ground – they finished with 216 yards rushing, after running for 236 yards last October at Ford Field. The Lions defense could not stop Jalen Hurts. And the offense – the team, really – walked off the field kicking itself over a multitude of missed plays and self-inflicted mistakes.

“I don’t think none of us were happy,” St. Brown said after the game. “We felt like we could have won that game. Obviously, mistakes were made out there. We wish could have had back certain plays. But, no, resiliency? We know we’re resilient. That’s something that we are as a team. We already know that. But we feel like we got to win those games. We’re not going back to last year, those close games that we couldn’t finish so moving forward, we got to win those.”

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On a day D’Andre Swift ran for a career-high 144 yards on 15 carries, Hurts showed the Lions defense still is mediocre by NFL standards.

The dual-threat Eagles quarterback completed 18 of 32 passes for 243 yards and added 90 yards rushing, extending numerous plays with his feet and side-stepping at least five sacks.

Hurts, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott all scored rushing touchdowns for an Eagles team that built a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter and led by double digits nearly the entire second half, until Jared Goff pulled the Lions within three on a 22-yard touchdown pass to DJ Chark with 3:51 to play.

The Eagles ran the ball seven straight times on the ensuing drive, picking up two first downs – one on a 24-yard run by Sanders on third-and-2 and one on a 1-yard sneak by Hurts on fourth-and-1 – to end the game.

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“They understand,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “It hurts more for them than it does anybody, and we were this close so it’s really like, ‘Look, man, this is Game 1 and we’ve got a long season here.’ And I said, ‘The good news is that we didn’t play very well and we lost by three.’ That’s what you can take away from this. Now, if we just take this whole approach where every week it’s like, well, we played and we lost by three, we lost by three, we lost by three then what are we doing?’ So we got to clean this up and we got to be better. We got to be a lot better in all areas.”

Defensively, the Lions, who have not won an opener since 2017, must improve at stopping the run, especially against mobile quarterbacks.

Hurts had four rushes of at least 10 yards in the first half, when the Eagles built a 24-14 lead.

The Lions opened with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by Swift’s 50-yard run, then failed to pick up a first down on their next four possessions. Hurts tied the game at 7 with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Sanders put the Eagles ahead with a 1-yard touchdown, and James Bradberry followed with a 27-yard interception return on a tipped pass.

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The Eagles had 111 yards rushing in the first half, while Goff started 3 of 10 passing for 6 yards. Goff, who had 88 yards passing late in the third quarter, finished 21 of 37 for 215 yards with two touchdowns.

“That’s probably what hurt us the most, those three-and-outs there in the middle in the second quarter,” Goff said. “A lot of mental errors mostly, and stuff that could be cleaned up easily, but stuff that can’t happen on game day. Hopefully we can attribute it to first-game stuff and hopefully next week, stuff like that isn’t happening. But just mental stuff that myself, everyone, can clean up and do better.”

The Lions had six passes that could reasonably be considered drops and Goff seemed out of synch with his pass catchers part of the day. His interception came on a pass he threw towards the sideline as T.J. Hockenson turned his route up field, and he was booed by home fans after he overthrew an open Kalif Raymond in the fourth quarter.

The Lions gifted the Eagles three points late in the first half, when A.J. Brown beat Will Harris on a 54-yard deep ball one play after Campbell called a timeout following a sack with 54 seconds left; Harris was playing in place of Jeff Okudah, who was on the sideline with cramps. The Eagles scored again in the third quarter on a short field after they recovered a surprise onside kick. And Lions safety and defensive captain Tracy Walker was ejected in the third quarter after he drew two personal fouls on the same play.

Brown finished with 10 catches for 155 yards in his first game as an Eagle, and Sanders had 96 yards rushing on 13 carries.

St. Brown led the Lions with eight catches for 64 yards and a touchdown, and Jamaal Williams ran for two scores.

“I think about, what mistakes did they make? They really didn’t,” Campbell said. “They played well. They executed well. We struggled with their quarterback. Hurts hurt us. So, he’s a good player, but we got to be able to respond to those things. And you know there at the end of that game, we got a chance, it’s fourth down, to close it out.”

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