The Eagles come into their week 5 showdown with the Lions full of confidence and momentum as they look to stay undefeated under Doug Pederson and take revenge for last year’s thanksgiving blowout. But this is a Lions team that has fallen to 1-3 and has its back against the wall. So how can the Eagles keep the Lions pinned against the wall and ensure that the Wentz wagon keeps on rolling?
Attack the Secondary:
The Lions Defense may be a shadow of what it was under Jim Schwartz, but it can still cause problems if overlooked. However, it’s more than just a coincidence that all four of the quarterbacks they’ve played against so far have attained a passer rating of over 100. All four of those quarterbacks, (Luck, Mariota, Rodgers and Hoyer) have no hesitation slinging the ball down the field..and that’s exactly what the Eagles need to do on Sunday.
On the play below, Rodgers is able to fire a pass over the middle due to having plenty of time in the pocket (something we will talk about later) and having trust in his receiver to slide underenath the coverage and create space over the middle. The Detroit linebackers aren’t the fastest in the world and they don’t particularly excel in coverage. Factor in their cornerback traits and reliance on players such as Darius Slay and what you have is an opportunity to constantly air it out if confident enough.
Marcus Mariota was able to do exactly the same in week 2 on a play action look, finding Delanie Walker as he read the double coverage perfectly and ran stealthily underneath to find acres of space on the left hand side of the field. It was a perfectly designed play and one we could likely see the Eagles replicate given the athleticism of Carson Wentz.
With Zach Ertz back in the team, the Eagles have to utilize him as much as possible in a game where physicality is just as important on Offense as it is on Defense. Zach Miller makes a great cut just before the endzone, getting wide open for Hoyer to float a pass to. Inside the red zone is where the Eagles efficiency can waiver..but with Ertz back in the lineup, we can expect some heavy involvement against a team that gives up a lot of short-yardage passes.
Stop Kerry Hyder running rampant:
The Lions pass-rush is sort of like the Cleveland Cavaliers..if you take LeBron out of the team, they’re nowhere near as dangerous..and that’s exactly the effect Kerry Hyder has on this unit. With at least one sack per game this season, Hyder has terrorized Offenses..but the problem is the rest of the team combined has one less sack.
Hyder was a huge unknown coming into this season but does a great job here of pushing inside the block and sliding straight into the path of Hoyer, his awareness is exceptional and he has become the heartbeat of this Defensive line.
What the Lions do well, is move Hyder around frequently. There are countless different Defensive Fronts which can cause problems for an unstable Offensive line. The Eagles seemed extremely formidable against the Steelers, but there’s no reason to suggest that it’s a sign of things to come given how prone to error the unit has been in the past. However, if they can take Hyder out of the game and ensure he does not get to Carson Wentz, the rest of the D-Line becomes somewhat manageable..which is going to be vital if Wentz is to attack the Secondary, given he has just five completions of over 20 yards so far.
Contain Marvin Jones:
Jones may not be the most prolific receiver in the NFL, but in the absence of Megatron, he’s certainly filled the void. With 482 yards and 2 touchdowns already, Jones has been extremely tough to manage..which is a problem for the Eagles. Yes, Leodis McKelvin is back but the Eagles cornerbacks have proven to be inconsistent tacklers, slow in man coverage and bar McKelvin, they all struggle at the line.
This in itself is a huge problem given just how physical Jones is. Look at the push he gets on his cornerback here, it completely changes the dynamic of the play and allows him to rack up some big yards after the catch. Jalen Mills and Nolan Carroll have both struggled jam at the Line of Scrimmage all season and this is one receiver who could punish them for that.
Jones is just one of those guys who has a tendency to make big plays. Here, he makes a huge catch over the middle as he spins off of his corner to create a small window of opportunity. Ball awareness is something that has been pointed out specifically by Schwartz in recent weeks, and knowing that a clash with Jones was just around the corner, it’s not hard to see why.
Against the Packers, Jones was just as effective in a scenario that could well unfold on Sunday. A zone coverage look saw Jones slide into a pocket of space between the corner and the Safety to make a great catch and get out of bounds.
Without Abdullah, the Lions have relied on Jones more heavily..and he’s delivered. The way he slides behind the Safety here to then take advantage of man-coverage is just beautiful to watch as his tall stature overpowers anyone that stands in his way..but it’s a huge concern for the Eagles who’s cornerback play has been incredibly suspect but gone uncriticized (except through our analysis series) due to the rest of the Defense stealing the show and often bailing them out. That could all come crashing down here if Jones is overlooked.
Establish the run:
The Eagles backfield may have amassed for over 100 yards in each of their opening three games, but it’s somewhat misleading..in fact, Sproles and Mathews both ended up on negative rushing yardage against the Steelers. The Eagles handed the reins to Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner and saw a spike in success. Luckily for them as they find a new pecking order, the Lions have allowed an average of 4.8 yards per carry this season.
In the play below, you can see how the shiftiness of Jordan Howard opens the running game completely. I could have chosen a much bigger run from any of the three games so far, but this stood out to me as it’s the exact type of run and style that Wendell Smallwood or Ryan Mathews could pull off.
The Eagles struggle in converting on third down and while it hasn’t hurt them yet, it will eventually..if they can establish a formidable run game and allow Sproles to be utilized more as a pass-catcher, then that kills two birds with one stone as the chains begin to move more fluently.
The Stafford storm:
With 26 touchdowns an 6 interceptions since the arrival of OC Jim Bob Cooter, Matt Stafford has become one of the most dangerous and underrated quarterbacks in the league. Why? Because his quick processing speed and ability to get out of trouble to make a play make him so.
On play action, he’s just as deadly. Stafford rolls out and slings a pass deep down the field before it was eventually broken up..but Stafford is a quarterback who’s always just one moment away from a huge play but is yet to find it this season..and the Eagles have already given up their fair share.
Without Abdullah, the Lions have been forced into utilizing the versatility of Theo Riddick. The running back has often lined up in the slot and aught passes out of the backfield, but doesn’t pose much of a threat on the ground..especially against this run Defense. Since losing Abdullah, the Lions have picked up just 106 yards and 28 of those have come from Stafford. That doesn’t mean that the Eagles should overlook Riddick however, who in the play below is able to catch a great pass out of the backfield for a first down.
— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) October 6, 2016
In a similar way to the Eagles use Sproles, Stafford has a great weapon in Riddick, especially if he’s overlooked in favor of focusing on eliminating guys like Golden Tate.
Dink and dunk:
The two words that have become all too common on social media due to analysts flocking in criticizing the success of Carson Wentz, could actually be one of the Eagles greatest weapons against the Lions. “Hoyer the destroyer” found moderate success “dinking and dunking his way down the field..and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the same from Carson Wentz.
A large reason behind this is the Lions linebackers struggle in coverage, especially against bigger receivers, like we see in the play below. Hoyer has all the time in the world to step up and fire out a quick pass for a nice gain. The tackle was very almost shed but lucky for the Lions, support arrived just in time.
The Bears Offense continued to control the tempo in the first half, largely because of “easy” throws like this. Plenty of time in the pocket, a nice clean window and a simple catch helped move the Bears past midfield..but it’s the simplicity of the routes, the mismatches of guys like Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery and acres of space that seem to open between the Safeties and the pass rush that mean a short-pass style Offense (or Doug’s West-Coast system) will thrive.
To top it off, a very “Carson Wentz” style throw to Alshon Jeffery on a play action look for a nice gain. Again, something we could very realistically see from the Eagles this Sunday.
Piling on the pressure:
The last part of this All-22 sounds simple, but it’s critical. Matt Stafford has completed less than 50% of his passes when under pressure this year..and with the Eagles tenacious pass rush in town, could face a similar level of weakness. Most of the attention will be placed on Fletcher Cox and naturally so..but it’s been Brandon Graham who has been having a standout season and making consistent plays.
Luckily for the Eagles, the Lions offensive line isn’t exactly prolific at keeping edge rushers at bay. Just take this Fackrell sack for example. So while the interior guys work on sealing the middle of the pocket and keeping a duo of Logan and Cox at bay, it’s guys like Curry and Graham who could have a field day against Matthew Stafford.
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports