Detroit Lions: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 14

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Detroit Lions: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 14
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions enter Week 14 coming off one of the most dominating performances in franchise history. They eviscerated the hapless Green Bay Packers 40-10 on Thanksgiving.

Detroit hopes to build on the momentous victory when it travels to Lincoln Financial Field for a date with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are also 7-5, making this week's contest rife with playoff implications.

 

NFC North Division Standings

Team Record Points For Points Against Division Record
Detroit Lions 7-5 326 287 4-1
Chicago Bears 6-6 323 332 2-3
Green Bay Packers 5-6-1

294

305 2-2-1
Minnesota Vikings 3-8-1 289 366

1-3-1

 

Detroit's big win over Green Bay puts the Lions in an extremely favorable position to win the division. Because the Lions hold the tiebreaker with the season sweep of the Bears, Detroit essentially holds a two-game lead over Chicago.

The Bears still have a chance to catch up, but their road isn't easy. They host the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football this week. There is a chance they get quarterback Jay Cutler back, though he cannot fix Chicago's porous defense.

Green Bay is reeling. The Packers have not won without Aaron Rodgers, who remains sidelined with a broken collarbone. As with Cutler, Rodgers could return this week, but that is unknown at this point. Green Bay hosts the 3-9 Atlanta Falcons this Sunday.

Keep in mind that the Packers and Bears finish the season against one another, which is a guaranteed loss for one of them. I guess they could conceivably tie, as Green Bay already has one and the Bears nearly added one this past weekend against Minnesota.

Those are the same Vikings who tied the Packers one week prior. Minnesota has been playing better recently, going 2-1-1 in the last month. The Vikings travel to Baltimore for a date with the Ravens in Week 14. 

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Eagles are in a dogfight with Dallas to capture the NFC East.

Philadelphia improved to 7-5 by vanquishing the pesky Arizona Cardinals, tying the Eagles with the Cowboys. Dallas knocked off the Oakland Raiders 31-24 while most Lions fans were feasting on Thursday.

Philadelphia presents a stern challenge for these Lions. The Eagles have soared to four wins in a row behind an ever-improving defense and mistake-free play from young quarterback Nick Foles.

Here is how the teams match up statistically:

  Rushing Passing Run Allowed Passing Allowed
Eagles 3rd (NFL rank) 9th 19th  32nd
Lions 16th 3rd 

3rd

26th

*These figures do not include the Monday night game.

The Lions roared up the rushing offense rankings, moving from 22nd to 16th on the back of last week's 241 yards on the ground. Detroit also moved up two spots in the pass defense ratings. 

When you look at Philadelphia's rankings, the 32nd in pass defense certainly catches the eye. I know it caught mine, so I did a little more digging.

It turns out the yardage the Eagles surrender is a bit misleading; while numbers never really lie, this one certainly detracts from the truth about Philadelphia's pass defense. The Eagles rank 14th in opposing QB rating, per TeamRankings.com.

That's a pretty dramatic divergence from allowing the most yardage, and there are a couple of root causes.

First, no defense has faced more pass attempts than Philadelphia. The Eagles face almost 44 throws per game, more than two full attempts higher than the next-closest defense (Denver). They see about seven passes per game more than the Lions do, as this chart from Team Rankings illustrates. 

It's quite simple, really. More passes equals more yards. 

Second, the Eagles get their hands on the football a lot. They are tied for sixth with 15 interceptions, which greatly impacts QB rating. Moreover, they rank second in passes defended with 79, trailing only the Broncos. If you look further down this list from ESPN, you'll find the Lions in eighth with 65. 

If the Lions are going to win, they need to make all those inevitable passing yards really count.

These two teams have met 31 times in their long NFL histories. The Eagles hold a 16-13-2 overall record against Detroit. Seven of those victories have come in the last eight meetings, dating back to the 1995 playoff abomination. The Eagles crushed Herman Moore's Lions 58-37 behind a huge game for former Lions quarterback Rodney Peete.

The Lions did win the most recent meeting, taking down the Eagles 26-23 in overtime in Philadelphia last year. Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 135 yards, while Jason Hanson booted four field goals, including the game-winner.

Philadelphia hung tough in that game thanks to the Michael Vick-to-Jeremy Maclin combo. Maclin caught six passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, while Vick netted 370 total yards of offense. Neither of them will play in this game, however. 

 

Injury Report

Once again, Detroit's injury report is significantly shorter than just about any other team.

Cornerback Chris Houston missed the Green Bay game with a foot injury. He was the only player inactive due to injury.

Calvin Johnson received treatment during the game for his lingering knee issue, but he quickly returned to action. The star receiver will be listed as day-to-day when the official injury report comes out on Wednesday, but barring an unforeseen setback, he will play against the Eagles. 

The Lions have not practiced since their Thursday game, and there was no Monday press conference this week. Unfortunately, that means no injury updates or progress reports from the team.

Still, the relatively healthy state of this team is downright remarkable compared to its NFC North foes. 

 

What Needs to Improve

The No. 1 priority here is to protect the football.

One of the biggest keys to Philly's success this season is that it does not turn the ball over. Nick Foles has not thrown an interception in his 196 pass attempts this year.

That means the Lions are not apt to force many, if any, takeaways. Protecting the pigskin will be paramount, because it's hard to win with a negative turnover margin. 

Even in the glorious victory over Green Bay, the Lions turned the ball over four times. They've given the ball away at least three times in four of the last five contests.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Matthew Stafford is an aggressive quarterback, and that means he will make some risky throws from time to time.

The pick he threw in the end zone against Green Bay, when Sam Shields plucked the ball in front of Calvin Johnson in isolation coverage, is a turnover the Lions can probably live with. The interception he threw to Tramon Williams, when Stafford misread the coverage and never gave intended target Kris Durham a chance to fight for it, is the kind of mistake the Lions must avoid.

As great as Reggie Bush's game was, which I chronicled in the weekly takeaways, the red-zone fumble is precisely the sort of carelessness that this team cannot afford going forward.

The other area for improvement would be to handle good fortune positively.

Detroit sits alone atop the division with its playoff fate in its own hands. Of course, that was true three weeks ago, and the Lions subsequently played poor, sloppy football in losses to Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

These Eagles are better than either of those teams, and the Lions need to take them very seriously.

Detroit must not squander this opportunity. While this is not a "must-win" game, a win here would ease a whole lot of pressure going forward. A Lions win and a Bears loss in Week 14 would put Detroit in position to clinch its first-ever NFC North title when the Lions host the Ravens on Monday Night Football in Week 15.

Wouldn't that be nice? I cannot think of a better way to reward the loyalty of the long-suffering Detroit fans than to wrap up a divisional title in prime time in front of the home crowd. 

A win over Philadelphia would put that wonderful possibility in play.

Should the Lions dominate the line of scrimmage as they did against Green Bay, as well as some other games this year, it is possible. These Lions have proven they can play with anyone in the league. When the lines are crushing it and the team is winning the turnover battle, the Detroit Lions can beat anyone. 

Here's hoping they remember that heading into Philadelphia.

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