Previewing 2021 Week 8 - PHI @ DET - Breaking the Duck

The Detroit Lions are facing down the prospect of going into their week 9 bye winless. And yet, there's a sense of optimism and improvement around this team that you might see around contenders. The most recent loss against the Los Angeles Rams and Matthew Stafford was perhaps their best game of the season so far. It certainly was for the offensive line, it was also for Kalif Raymond, who had a career day with 6 catches for 115 yards.


It is with this sense of optimism and improvement that the Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) come to town looking to re-ignite their stuttering season - with the contract restructuring they've had to do to stay under the cap, they needed to be competitive this year and yet they've been poor pretty much everywhere.


Let's take a closer look at this Eagles team:


The offense is one of the most efficient running attacks in the league (5 yards per attempt = 4th in the NFL), but mediocre in the passing game. They're very good in the redzone (17 TDs in 24 trips = 6th in the NFL), but only average on 3rd and 4th downs.


QB Jalen Hurts, in his second season with the team has put up 148/242 (61.2%), 1617 passing yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs at 6.3 net yards per attempt. He's also got 66 rushing attempts for 361 yards (leads team) (5.5 yards per attempt) and 5 TDs. His PFF grade is a handy 79.1.


Despite the numbers above, Hurts is considered by many Philly fans to be one of the problems rather than one of the solutions. A lot of his stats have come in garbage time (case in point is last week against the Raiders where it took Philly going down 30-7 before he staged a mini-comeback. And yet, he's still a threat with the ball in hand. He's not afraid to throw down field and he can definitely beat you with his legs - something the Lions have been used to facing this season with Lamar Jackson in week 3.


The rest of the running threat would be provided by Miles Sanders, the fantasy football star, however he is unfortunately ruled out with injury, having been placed on IR earlier this week. Instead, the running room will be made up by rookie Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. Gainwell has done well this season so far, but has a reputation as more of a receiving back.


The receiving threats are significant. 1st round rookie DeVonta Smith is having a good start to his NFL career with 406 yards and 1 TD, Quez Watkins is performing to a high level with 348 yards and Jalen Reagor, whilst underwhelming in his pro career so far, is still a 2020 1st round pick who must be accounted for. TE Dallas Goedert is one of the best in the nation, but Jalen Hurts has struggled to use him over the middle.


The offensive line is meant to be one of the team's strengths, and yet it has looked overmatched at times despite having stars C Jason Kelce, LT Jordan Mailata, RT Lane Johnson and rookie 2nd rounder Landon Dickerson.


The defense on the other has been awful. They've not been made against the pass, but against the run they've conceded 931 yards (29th in the NFL). They are also not great in situational play, ranking 26th in the NFL on 3rd down, and 28th in the NFL in the redzone.


And yet, their team is full of stars, headed by legendary DT Fletcher Cox. He's taken a fumble to the house this year, as well as 11 tackles (7 solo) and 3 QB hits in what has been a down year by his standards. Also on the line they have DT Javon Hargrave who has a forced fumble and 6 sacks as well as 39 tackles (16 solo). The secondary is led by former Lion CB Darius Slay who is quietly having a very good season with 2 INTs and 29 tackles.


Key Matchups


I feel certain that the Lions can handle the Eagles running game, including Hurts and Gainwell, it's been one of their strengths in the last few game. My concern really comes from the Lions depleted secondary and the Eagles stable of receivers, specifically Smith between the front 7 and secondary. The key will be getting pressure up front and not allowing Hurts time in the pocket to throw. Likewise, can the Lions pound the rock up front against Cox and Hargrave?


Prediction


I told myself I wouldn't pick the Lions to win again this season, playing the percentages. However, in this game I'm drawn to do so again. The Eagles are worse in one major key area - coaching. The Eagles are one of the best rushing teams in the league, and yet are 32nd in rushing attempts. That's a problem. On the other hand, the Lions have consistently made good decisions on the coaching side.