Never underestimate an NFL team that desperately needs a victory.backed up against a wall.
The Lions are off to a disappointing1-3 start after last season's 10-6 record and playoff appearance. They appeared to be a team on the climb. But the Lions have a number of issues - a deficient pass defense, an anemic run game, and historically poor special teams - that have them taking steps backward.
An anonymous general manager recently told a publication that the Lions were overrated, full of themselves, especially one player in particular - Ndamukong Suh. The talented defensive tackle hasn't been as dominant since his rookie season two years ago.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz and some of his players have said that they need to play with more edge, like they did last season, when they led the league with 147 penalties. So the Lions are likely to come into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday looking to make a point.
But the Eagles, a slight favorite in this game, have a number of favorable matchups against a Lions team that is even sloppier than the Birds.
When the Eagles run
Despite the occasional neglect, LeSean McCoy has the sixth-most carries in the NFL heading into Week 6. He rushed for 53 yards on 16 carries last week at Pittsburgh, but was automatic in short- yardage situations. McCoy's first career 100-yard rushing day came two years ago in Detroit when he ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 16 totes. That was the Lions' first season playing with a wide-nine defensive front. As a result, they struggled against the run, allowing 4.5 yards a carry. They fared even worse the following season as opposing offenses average 5 yards a rush. Despite the Lions' issues with stopping the run, they brought back middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch this offseason, a free agent many in Philadelphia believed the Eagles should have acquired. Detroit has had greater success this season on the ground, limiting ballcarriers - including Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Stephen Jackson, and Frank Gore have already faced the Lions --- to 4.1 yards a carry. Suh has been the Lions' most consistent run-stuffer up front, despite the criticism, and will give left guard Evan Mathis and center Dallas Reynolds all they can handle.
When the Eagles pass
A leaky offensive line has limited the Eagles' big-play capabilities. Last season, the Birds liked to strike fast when they threw on first down. This year, it's been check-down city, with the Eagles averaging only 5.7 yards per pass play on first down as opposed to last season's 8.2. That has forced quarterback Michael Vick to find alternative ways to get DeSean Jackson (24 catches for 391 yards) the ball. Jeremy Maclin has been plodding along since the opener, initially beset by injuries. He could be poised for a breakout game if he draws the Lions' Bill Bentley. The rookie cornerback has been fodder for opposing quarterbacks and was flagged for two pass-interference penalties two weeks ago against the Vikings. Veteran corner Chris Houston, on the other side, has been steadier. Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are the Lions' nickel linebackers and will have to contend with tight end Brent Celek, who had only three catches for 9 yards last week. Help may be on the way for a Lions defense that is without an interception. Safety Louis Delmas, who hasn't played since August knee surgery, could be making his season premiere. Defensive end Cliff Avril (back) should be ready to return and help a pass rush that has produced only nine sacks.
When the Lions run
Detroit's rushing attack hasn't had much bite this season. The same was said about the Steelers heading into last week's game, but Pittsburgh packed in their formations and hammered the Eagles on the ground in the second half. The Steelers were getting Rashard Mendenhall back, however. The Lions haven't found a suitable replacement for Jahvid Best, who is still out after last season's bout with concussions. Running back Mikel Le Shoure ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut in Week 3, but came down to earth the following week (13 carries for 26 yards). Joique Bell (and a tip of the cap to anyone who remembers his brief stint with the Eagles) has been an effective pass-catching option out of the backfield (12 catches for 175 yards). Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox have been the Eagles' run-stopping leaders. But offenses have been able to attack the Birds' outside gaps. The return of Akeem Jordan at weakside linebacker should help.
When the Lions pass
No first sentence about the Lions passing offense should end without mention of Calvin Johnson. Arguably the game's most dominant receiver, Johnson is Concern No. 1 for any defense facing Detroit. Despite the constant attention, "Megatron" has 29 catches for 423 yards this season. He has only one touchdown, however, despite leading the NFL with 46 receiving touchdowns since 2008. He's big (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) and he's fast, so an argument could be made for either Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha to coverguard him most of the day. It could be both along with rookie Brandon Boykin in the slot. They'll all need safety help. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been bothered by a hip injury, but the bye should have helped him get healthier. After throwing 41 touchdowns against 16 interceptions a season ago, Stafford has a 3-4 ratio to open this season. The Lions are gobbling up yards through the air (a second-best-in-the-league 322 yards a game), but the lack of a strong run game has hurt them situationally. The Eagles defense hasn't notched a sack in the last two games, but the pass defense has been strong, holdingheld opposing quarterbacks to a 67.1 passer rating.
The Eagles may have met their match in special-teams futility. The Lions' cover units have allowed four returns - two punt, two kickoff - for touchdowns this season. The rest of the league has surrendered six. The Eagles' cover units are slightly better only because they haven't allowed anyone to take one to the house. Detroit has the edge, however, in the return game, as 5-foot-6 Stefan Logan is averaging 10.9 yards a punt return. For the Eagles, it could be time to allow DeSean Jackson to field a few punts in place of the ineffective Damaris Johnson (6 yards a punt return).
For the second straight week the Eagles face a team coming off a bye. Most benefit from the extra time off. So, too, should the Lions, who were a little gimpy after losing three straight. Schwartz is 1-2 after the bye with Detroit. While Eagles coach Andy Reid is a perfect 13-0 after the bye, his record (6-7) before the break isn't as impressive. The Eagles won a track meet, 35-32, when these two teams met two years ago at Ford Field. The Birds have won six straight in the series, beginning with their 58-37 playoff victory over the Lions in 1995 at Veterans Stadium. The last time they met at the Linc, in 2007, the Eagles whipped Detroit, 56-21, in those hideous yellow and powder blue throwback jerseys.