Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Eagles are once again in bounce-back mode after a tough Week 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But every time the Eagles have played poorly this season, they have indeed bounced back with a victory.
Here's what they need to do to ensure that happens again this week against the Detroit Lions.
Take some chances on offense
I know it doesn't seem prudent to suggest that a team that has the second-most turnovers in football should take more chances on offense, but the Lions give the Eagles a perfect opportunity to do so. Philadelphia is already rolling the dice with Michael Vick and his turnover habit, so it has to go all in against a defense that lacks teeth.
Should the Eagles take more chances this week?
Detroit's defense has just three takeaways in four games this year, which is tied for dead-last in the NFL. And against strong defenses, the Eagles have actually only turned it over twice in the last two games. Both of those were on Michael Vick, but they also came on good defensive plays from Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark.
I'm not suggesting that the Lions can't take the ball away from Philly, but I think the Eagles have to continue to play their game against a D that can be had pretty easily. Vick hasn't thrown an interception since Week 3, and he's coming off his best game of the season in Pittsburgh.
At home, Vick could have a chance to gain a ton of confidence while exploding against a defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a completion percentage of 66.1 and a passer rating of 101.3 (both 26th in the league).
Sam Bradford, Jake Locker and Alex Smith have owned this defense, so it's not as though they've been running into elite quarterbacks. Vick should be able to have a field day against a pass rush that Pro Football Focus ranks 26th in football (and might be without Cliff Avril) and a coverage unit that ranks 24th.
That doesn't mean the Eagles should throw all day, but the Lions have done a decent job against some quality backs this year, so this probably isn't the time to suddenly become a conservative offense.
Specifically, the key will be to avoid Chris Houston, who's had a fantastic year, and then go at whichever wide receiver gets to work against whoever has less help between rookie Dwight Bentley and nickel man Jacob Lacey. That's what's so great about having three quality wide receivers. Bentley's likely to face Jeremy Maclin with lots of help outside, and DeSean Jackson could be limited by Houston, but Jason Avant could feast on Lacey in the slot.
The big advantage there is that the Lions safeties have been horrible in coverage. As a result, athletic tight ends like Vernon Davis and Jared Cook have given that D fits early this season. And so, look for Brent Celek to capitalize. Offensively, Philly would be smart to implement more plays with Avant and Celek as first or second reads.
Remove Calvin Johnson from the game
I know, easier said than done. Few defenses are capable of doing this, but the Eagles might have the personnel to get it done.
The last time Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie faced Calvin Johnson, he and Antrel Rolle held Megatron to three total catches for only 35 yards in 2009. That was when DRC was a Cardinal and was playing at an extremely high level. After a two-year slump, he's back at the top of his game, confident as ever and ready to get physical with Johnson again on Sunday.
Ideally, Rodgers-Cromartie will again jam Johnson often Sunday, and he'll almost always have help over the top from either Kurt Coleman or Nate Allen, both of whom have excelled in coverage this season.
Titus Young and Nate Burleson have just two catches on five passes of 20-plus yards this season, per Pro Football Focus. Nnamdi Asomugha has struggled, but he barely gets beat deep, and he and Brandon Boykin will almost always have a single high safety to help them with Young and/or Burleson and/or Brandon Pettigrew.
That's still a quality group of pass-catchers, and they'll likely have at least some success, but I can't see any of those matchups changing the game. And the key will be that the Lions might be forced to put trust in a shaky running game, especially if Philly's wide-nine can finally explode.
Should the Eagles double-team Calvin Johnson?
There's no guarantee that last part will come true. The Lions have done a decent job protecting Matthew Stafford thus far and have had two weeks to prepare for Jim Washburn's defensive front. That's why it's so important to focus on Johnson. I know that's almost cliché, but the Eagles should be able to win this game if they can just keep him under control.
If that means bracketing Johnson and giving up shorter gains elsewhere, so be it. They have to be confident in their depth in the secondary and they have to believe that the front seven can at least force Stafford to rush his reads after realizing Johnson is unavailable.
The Eagles failed to do this against Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals two weeks ago, and it cost them. This week, they can't afford to have an undersized rookie like Boykin lining up against Megatron with limited help. Don't underestimate what the guy can do to you.
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