NFL Wars Episode I: Revenge of the Pride

Last season's game against the Philly Eagles was so bad that the coaches literally buried the tape. Well, AG has to get his shovel out and uncover the tapes, because our Lions open this NFL season with the chance for revenge. So how exactly can our Lions maul the pesky green Eagles, and start the '22 season with a win? I venture to look at their team, sip the Honolulu blue Kool-Aid, and propose a few keys to the game to get us a Detroit victory.


Last Season:

Record: 9-8 (2nd best in the NFCE, 7th in the NFC, 18th in the NFL)

Offence: 444 PF (12th), 61119 yards (14th), 16 TOs (5th)

Defence: 385 PA (18th), 5590 yards (10th), 16 TOs (26th)


Offence: (* denotes offseason addition) [notable players only listed]

QBs- Jalen Hurts & Gardner Minshew II

RBs- Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott & Trey Sermon*

WRs- AJ Brown*, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins & Zach Pascal*

TEs- Dallas Goedert & Grant Calcaterra*

OL- Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Lane Johnson, Cam Jurgens*, Jack Driscoll & Josh Sills*


It goes without saying that the Eagles' OL is one of the best in the league, especially at the three most important positions. Even with former first-round pick Andre Dillard out with a broken arm, this still projects to be a top 5 OL in the league. Therefore, I shan't spend any more time breaking them down and will turn to the QB. Hurts, while being a top fantasy option, isn't a good NFL QB. He sports a 59% career completion rate for 221 yards, 0.84 TDs and 0.68 INTs per game. For comparison, his moustachioed backup has a 68% completion rate for 271 yards, 1.87 TDs and 0.55 INTs per game. While Hurts is weak through the air, Hurts can hurt teams on the ground. Over his two years in the league, Hurts has run for 60 yards and 0.68 TDs per game, and 5.6 Y/A. As we saw in the first week of the preseason, we could potentially struggle against rushing QBs, so hopefully shutting down Hurts in the running game is something that Glenn, Shepp and Wash are planning for. However, Hurts has also fumbled the ball 9 times in each of his seasons in the league so far, so keep an eye on players looking to knock the ball out after securing the tackle.


On the subject of running, Philly boasts a good RB room. Their top three backs all exceeded 450 scrimmage yards last year, and Sermon was highly regarded before his disappearance from relevance after being drafted by the Niners. Sanders is their lead back, doing most of his damage on the ground (754 yards on 137 attempts last season, with an additional 158 yards on 26 catches). Behind him, Boston Scott is their next running back (373 yards on 87 carries, 83 yards from 13 catches), while Gainwell is their pass catcher (253 yards from 33 catches, 291 rushing yards from 68 carries). Each back also fumbled at least once last year, with Gainwell losing the ball twice. The Eagles, much like last year, will attempt to run the ball, control the clock and lean on their defence to win the game. However, with our new defensive front, and the improvement we saw in our run defence over the preseason, things could be very different from Halloween last year. Especially pertinent from the preseason is how we shut down the Colts (30 yards on 18 attempts), as the Eagles' HC Siranni used to be the Colts' OC before he was hired in Philly. Therefore, one could expect our defence to be well prepared to nullify the Eagles' RB room.


Very much like our Lions, the Eagles dedicated resources to improving the pass-catching corps to help their QB. On the first day of the draft, they sent the 18th and 101st overall picks to the Titans for WR A.J. Brown before signing him to a four-year 100m contract. Trading for Brown was a good move, as it gives Hurts more of a proven prototypical X WR to throw to (6'1", 226lbs, with 2,995 yards and 24 TDs on 185 catches over his first three years in the league), and allows Smith to face the CB2 of the opposition. The team then used the 198th overall pick to take Grant Calcaterra, TE out of SMU. While Philly does have a good track record with drafting tight ends (Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert), and Calcaterra is a good option in the passing game (79 receptions for 1,102 yards and 13 TDs in college), he has already retired once from football due to the effects of suffering multiple concussions. The Eagles also return their top four receivers from last year in Smith (64/916/5), Goedert (56/830/4), Watkins (43/647/1), and the aforementioned Gainwell. However, the success of the passing offence lies at the quarterback's door. With a better QB, this offence could be amazing. However, until Hurts proves himself as a passer, this passing attack does not strike fear into me, even with the uncertainty surrounding our secondary. With Iffy returning to practise on a limited basis on Wednesday (hamstring), I would match him up on Goedert and use him to take away what would be Hurts' best weapon. However, with him only just now practising, I also expect Will Harris and Chris Board (also limited on Wednesday with a knee injury) to chip in as well. Given his speed, Okudah will initially line up on AJ Brown, therefore having Amani cover Smith, though because our corners do not travel, we could see a mismatch of Brown against Amani during the game.


Defence:

DEs: Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett & Tarron Jackson

DTs: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Jordan Davis* & Milton Williams

WILLs: Kyzir White* & Shaun Bradley

MIKEs: T.J. Edwards & Nakobe Dean*

SAMs: Haason Reddick*, Patrick Johnson & Kyron Johnson*

CBs: Darius Slay, James Bradberry*, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe* & Josiah Scott

FSs: Marcus Epps & K'Von Wallace

SSs: C.J. Gardner-Johnson* & Reed Blankenship*


The Eagles defence is the side of the ball that worries me the most, especially their defensive line. They return their top four pass rushers from last year, have added another rusher in FA who had 11 sacks on 33 pressures last year, and drafted a RAS god to develop in their IDL room. It is the interior that worries me and the coaching staff, as whoever does not double-teamed will have a positive match-up, creating pressure up the middle to force Goff out of the pocket into what he is weakest: improvising when the play breaks down. Even before the placing of Vatai on IR, this was looking like a stern test of how good our starting five is. However, given reports out of practice on Wednesday, it could be Stenburg or Sewell, and either Ragnow (who showed up on the injury report as limited with a groin injury on Wednesday) or Brown, who will be lining up opposite Cox and Davis on Sunday. Kraemer, who played well so far considering his UDFA status last year (0 sacks allowed on 238 offensive snaps last year, 80.5 PFF grade this preseason), did not practise on Wednesday, but even so, he would have been the obvious weak link that Jonathan Gannon would attack in his gameplan. As for specific matchups, Decker will be going against power rusher Derek Barnett (2 sacks on 22 pressures, and 7 TFLs last year, but was limited in practice on Wednesday), while Sewell will have the task of taking on speed rusher Josh Sweat (7.5 sacks on 25 pressures and 7 TFLs) if he stays at RT. This perhaps projects to be a good matchup for our Lions, as Sewell has the athleticism to match Sweat while Decker has the technique and anchor to stop Barnett. However, if it is Nelson who starts at RT, this could be another potential mismatch for the Eagles to exploit. Our RG will have his hands full taking on Cox (3.5 sacks on 23 pressures and 7 TFLs) and Davis (2 sacks and 5 TFLs), though one can assume the center will be tasked with helping him with this task. This will leave Jackson one-on-one with Javon Hargrave (7.5 sacks on 24 pressures with 9 TFLs, who was also limited in practice on Wednesday). This interior pressure will also force Goff toward Haason Reddick, whose strength is pass-rushing (11 sacks last year [tied-11th most in the league] off 33 pressures [24th in the league]) despite playing off-ball linebacker for most of his professional career. Therefore, it might fall on our tight ends and running backs to stay and help pass block to help nullify the Eagles pass rush.


The weakest part of the Eagles defence is their linebacker room. They lost their leading tackler last year in Alex Singleton (81 solo, 137 combined), but do return T.J. Edwards who was second highest (64 solo, 130 combined, 5 TFLs). The Eagles did bring in Kyzir White from the Chargers (90 solo, 144 combined, 7 TFLs) and the aforementioned Reddick (37 solo, 68 combined, 12 TFLs) to take up starting roles, and drafted Nakobe Dean in the third (36 solo, 72 combined, 10.5 TFLs). All three projected starters missed more than 5% of their tackles last year, along with having a pass completion rate of over 75% when in coverage. However, as mentioned above, Reddick is a pass rush specialist (like the SAM in our scheme), so is unlikely to play a significant number of snaps in a traditional off-ball role, so I shall disregard him from herein out. This looks to be the area of the defence that Ben Johnson will be targeting as both Edwards and White gave up more than 6 yards per target and 8 yards per completion last year. I bet when he, Duce and Swift saw those numbers, their mouths started watering. With our improved pass catchers on the outside, the middle of the field will be open for Swift to run routes out the backfield, allowing Goff to get the ball in his hands quickly so he can get yards after the catch. If Johnson is able to also get the Sun God matched up on one of these LBs, expect further chaos.


On the topic of Swift, despite how much Duce hates it when he bounces the ball outside, he might find some joy doing it this week against Philly. Both starting outside CBs missed more than 13% of their tackles last year (with Bradberry missing more than one-fifth of his tackles last season). Their new star SS C.J. Gardner-Johnson also missed 16% of his tackles last season, and Glenn will know all about him as he is the coach who turned him from a lowly fourth-round pick to one of the best hybrid defensive backs in the league. In terms of pass coverage, things are also encouraging. It stands to reason that their best corner last year is former Lions star Big Play Slay, who gave up 59% of passes thrown his way for 535 yards, 3 TDs and a 74.4 passer rating. As he lines up on the right-hand side of their formation, he will be facing DJ Chark on most snaps, with Marcus Epps (79% completion rate for 280 yards, 2 TDs and a 117.3 passer rating) providing assistance over the top. On the other side, James Bradberry (62%, 848 yards, 8 TDs, 93 passer rating) will be covering Josh Reynolds. St. Brown will be facing Maddox, who gave up 76% of passes his way for 412 yards, 1 TD and an 87.2 passer rating. It's likely that C.J. Johnson (64%, 400 yards, 1 TD, 67.7 passer rating) will be covering T.J. Hockenson, who hopefully will not have taken notes from Javon Wims and Anthony Miller on how to beat his coverage. Given their weakness over the middle of the field and the lefthand side of their formation, one can assume that Chark will offer a deep decoy to draw coverage, giving Reynolds, St. Brown and Hockenson single coverage to exploit.


Special Teams:

K: Jake Elliott

P: Arryn Siposs

KR: Quez Watkins

PR: Kenneth Gainwell


Jake Elliott is a good kicker, having completed 91% of his field goals last season, with a long of 58 yards, with his three misses coming between 40-49 yards. Former Lion Siposs, despite losing his position battle with Jack Fox in camp, has turned out to be a passable punter for the Eagles, though his 43.9-yard net punt average last season ranked in the bottom third of the league. The Eagles traded away their kick returner from last season (Jalen Reagor) so the responsibility falls to Quez Watkins, who returned 8 punts last season for an average of 17.3 yards with a long of 24. Gainwell also returned 8 punts last year, with an average of 17.1 yards and a long of 31 yards. However, I have complete faith in our coverage teams to curtail any returns, especially with our drafting of the demon known on Hard Knocks as Rodrigo.


Keys to Win:

  1. Stop the run. If we can limit gains on the ground, we can force the Eagles to rely on Hurts' arm to move the ball which tips the scales in our favour

  2. Secure the tackle. If we can wrap up well on initial contact, we can both limit yards after the catch, and allow the second defender to attempt to force a turnover

  3. Contain interior pressure. If we can allow Goff time in the pocket, he can pick on the weak Eagles pass coverage

  4. Run the ball. If we control the clock, we can in essence flip Philly's script from last year on them, wear them down and get the win

Stat Predictions:

Lions

  • Goff: 21/29, 245 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 rushes, 10 yards, 0 TDs

  • Swift: 17 rushes, 80 yards, 0 TDs, 5/6, 42 yards, 1 TD

  • Reynolds: 8/9 110 yards, 1 TD

  • Hutchinson: 4 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 2 sacks

  • Rodriguez: 8 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 FF

  • Okudah: 6 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 PBUs

Eagles

  • Hurts: 22/40, 195 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6 rushes, 25 yards, 1 TD

  • Sanders: 10 rushes, 33 yards, 0 TDs, 3/5, 18 yards, 0 TDs

  • Goedert: 7/12, 40 yards, 1 TD

  • Cox: 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1.5 sacks

  • Edwards: 9 tackles, 0.5 TFLs

  • Slay: 5 tackles, 1 PBU

Hot take: In his first game at safety, Melifonwu plays 70% of snaps, covering Goedert well, helping shut down the Eagles' passing game and getting himself an interception along with 2 further PBUs (Goedert's predicted TD would come from a goalline PA pass when Iffy is off the field)


Final Score: Lions 24, Eagles 17


How do you think the game will go? Can our Lions get the win, or will they start 0-1? Who do you think will lead in the stats, and what will the final score be?

 

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