Week 1: Eagles Preview & Prediction: At Lions

Date & Time: September 11th-1:00pm

Location: Detroit, MI – Ford Field

Network: Fox

  • Eagles Injury Report
    • NONE
  • Lions Injury Report
    • OUT
      • G Tommy Kraemer
      • DT Levi Onwuzurike
      • S Ifeatu Melifonwu

Matchup Preview

As we approach week one of the 2022 season, it’s hard to not feel the excitement throughout the city. With spontaneous E-A-G-L-E-S choruses ringing out throughout the city and Eagles flags flying all around City Hall, one thing is abundantly clear – Philadelphia is ready for some football. 

One must also mention that this is the first sold-out game at Ford Field since 2019. What remains to be seen, however, is how many of those sold-out seats will be Eagles fans.

The Eagles week one opponent, the Lions, were recently featured on the HBO special “Hard Knocks”. Throughout the newest season of the show, one thing was clear — this team, while young and rebuilding, has a good culture being established and could surprise a lot of people. 

While they may not have the most talent, they will play extremely hard for all four quarters and make each opposing team earn every victory. 

Much of this cultural restoration must be credited to Head Coach Dan Campbell and his declaration that the Lions would be a team that bites the opposing teams’ kneecaps in his introductory press conference. 

The Lions coaching staff also has a familiar face for Philly fans in Duce Staley who is in the building as running backs coach and assistant coach.

The game against the Lions last year was a crucial one for Philadelphia as it can be traced back to being the moment where the Eagles’ potent rushing attack truly began to take shape. 

After struggling with passing concepts throughout the first six weeks of the season, Sirriani and Steichen went back to the drawing board and came out with a brand new offensive philosophy predicated on utilizing the Eagles’ offensive line to control the line of scrimmage and tempo of the game. 

The Eagles return all of their starters from last year and expect to see further improvement. The stout left side anchored by Mailata and Dickerson is very young and very talented, however, Offensive Line coach Jeff Stoutland made it a point to mention that already dominant second-year guard Landon Dickerson is “light years” ahead of last year which bodes extremely well for the Eagles

Once this system was implemented, the Eagles went on to win a Wildcard spot in the playoffs based off their dominant rushing attack.

While the Lions game was a coming-out party of sorts for the Eagles offense, the defensive performance was a different story. Although this may seem odd to say when the defense held the Lions’ offense to 6 points, what must be mentioned is that the team was extremely injury-plagued and was missing many starters. 

Despite that, quarterback Jared Goff threw for over 200 yards while completing 73.5% of his passes, and was particularly successful targeting the middle of the field with star tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

While Goff has become the butt of many jokes, the fact of the matter is; Goff is a solid quarterback who a coach can run an offense through – as long as he is kept safe in the pocket.

Since the Lions game last year, however, much has changed for both teams. The Lions have had Amon-Ra St. Brown, their fourth-round pick from last year, come about as a solid receiving option. 

While he is not the fastest or biggest receiver, he is a high-level route runner who has a good understanding of leverage and how to get open. His arrival was crucial last year down the stretch, coinciding with when Goff had his best games prior to getting injured.

In addition to St. Brown, the Lions went out this offseason and signed WR D.J. Chark. While Chark has dealt with some injury issues, he still can take the top off a defense with his speed. Third receiver Josh Reynolds also brings speed. 

Finally, the team drafted speedster Jameson Williams from Alabama in the first round of this year’s draft, however, he will not play against the Eagles as he is still recovering from an ACL tear in college. 

My thought is that there has been an obvious emphasis on taking the top off a defense for the Lions to open up more underneath for St. Brown and Hockenson. 

While the Lions new receiving core has been discussed, I would be remiss to gloss over their running game, predicated around Philly-native star running back, De’Andre Swift. 

Swift himself has made it clear that his goal is to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. While these are lofty goals, Swift certainly has the talent to succeed. Much of his success, however, will be predicated on how the new look offensive line looks. 

With the emergence of RT Penei Sewell last year, the offensive line welcomes back star C Frank Raganow as well as LT Taylor Decker. 

With Raganow and Decker back in the lineup, I expect to see an extremely physical Lions team that will open up more holes in the ground game and give Goff more time to throw.

Keys to victory

Establishing the run and controlling the trenches will be crucial for the Eagles on offense, as once they can solidify their running game, the play-action passing game will open up significantly more. If the Eagles can get the defense biting on run fakes, the receivers will be much more open. 

The Lions drafted blue-chip defensive end, Aidan Hutchinson to solidify their defensive line, so the Eagles must ensure they do what is necessary to neutralize him.

This leads me to my next point, in order for the Eagles to win this game and become a potent offense, Jalen Hurts MUST attack the middle of the field. While it was discussed ad-nauseam last year, the truth is, Jalen’s lack of utilization of the middle of the field was a true detriment to the offense and did not allow it to blossom to the fullest of its abilities. 

This is where the addition of A.J. Brown could change everything. The receiver with an “Always Open” sign in his locker is just that over the middle of the field – even if he’s covered. Brown has the attitude and requisite size to be a monster over the middle, proven by him being one of the statically best receivers in the middle of the field over the last two years. 

Through all reports in training camp, Jalen has been much more willing to throw over the middle with Brown there, even when he doesn’t seem open. 

In order for the Eagles to win, Hurts must also show more consistency and comfortability in the offense. By this, I mean he cannot be afraid to throw receivers open, especially now that he has more of a feel for the timings after a full year in the offense.

For a resounding Eagles victory, Jalen Hurts will need to prove that his targeting of the middle of the field and throwing receivers open all summer was not a mirage but in fact simply the next step in his exponential evolution.

Defensively, for the Eagles to leave Sunday victorious, they will have to (you guessed it) CONTROL THE TRENCHES. With the Lions’ new-look offensive line debuting, it will be extremely important for our defensive line to play nasty and ensure the offensive line is unable to get comfortable. 

While the Lions will look to predicate their offensive identity around running the football, if the Eagles’ defense can make them one-dimensional, it will be to their benefit.

In addition, there is always a key to beating Jared Goff led teams – get to him and make him uncomfortable. With the addition of Jordan Davis on the defensive line and Hassan Reddick at the SAM position, I am excited to see what kind of pressures the Eagles will be sending. 

While historically Gannon has not been the most exotic with his pressures, the hope is that with this influx of talent, we may see blitz concepts that he felt he did not have the personnel for last year. 

Look for various simulated pressures as well, once Goff has been hit a few times to keep him guessing even further. With an exciting chess piece in the blitzing game like Reddick, the pressure is on to see how Gannon will utilize him.

Lastly, in order for the Eagles to comfortably win on Sunday, the linebacker and safety play in the middle of the field must be significantly better. 10 receptions on 11 targets for 89 yards is what T.J. Hockenson put up on the Eagles unit last year. 

This is simply unacceptable and teams can make you pay when you have such a glaring weakness. On top of this, the emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown ensures the defense must account for him in the area now as well. 

However, the Eagles hope they have found a solution to this issue with the additions of Kyzir White and C.J. Gardner Johnson. 

White at linebacker is a proficient zone defender and has the athleticism to match up with tight ends or running backs coming out of the backfield – an obvious upgrade over T.J. Edwards or Davion Taylor in coverage. The hope is that he will help solidify the middle of the Eagles passing defense.

C.J. Gardner Johnson on the other hand will be playing safety. Gardner-Johnson is a unique football player who is comfortable both playing safety and covering guys man on man. Look for his ability to give Gannon some more flexibility in terms of the back seven. 

While he is listed as a safety on paper, Gardner-Johnson can play a plethora of positions. In my estimation, the Eagles will see him in a Malcolm Jenkins-type role in which he changes positions based on the matchups the defense is facing that week. 

Even if the Eagles were to play him as a single high safety, Gardner-Johnson has the requisite speed and instincts to make plays and make life difficult for receivers in the middle of the field. 

3 Matchups to Watch

1) Eagles WRs vs. Lions CBs

With game one of the A.J. Brown era, it would be asinine not to watch him go out there, do his thing, and dominate. 

After trading a first-round pick for him, the expectation is that Brown will step in and be a focal point on the Eagles offense. That will open up the middle of the field to Jalen Hurts.

Not to be overshadowed, DeVonta Smith returned from an injury during camp to have a strong preseason, and expectations for him are sky high. 

After breaking the rookie receiving yards record for the Eagles and almost breaking 1,000 yards despite playing in a run-heavy offense and missing time, Smitty will look to solidify himself as a top young receiver in the league. 

Smith’s speed and quickness look to be the perfect complement to Brown’s tough and physical play style.

Behind them of course, it will be fascinating to see the split of snaps between Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal. While Quez has game-breaking speed, Pascal always has a remarkable consistency to his route running as well as his blocking. 

Depending on what the offense is trying to accomplish, it will be interesting to see who the Eagles have come out in different sets and at different points in the game.

The Eagles have a special receiving room that truly plays off of each other’s strengths, however, they absolutely will be tested by a scrappy and young secondary with the Lions. 

Recently reclaiming a starting position with the team, former first-round corner Jeff Okudah finally looks to be healthy and in his pre-injury form, which made him a top pick, after tearing his achilles his rookie year. 

Okudah was a prolific player in college who is trying to bounce back from injury. Corner is a difficult position to do it at, but Okudah getting his spot back on a competition-heavy team like the Lions is a great sign. 

On the other side, Amani Oruwariye returns after having the third most picks in the league last year (6) while allowing a 60.2 passer rating and only two touchdowns all year. 

While Okudah has the draft pedigree, Oruwariye has no doubt solidified himself as the number one corner for the Lions since Slay’s departure. 

In between the two at the nickel, the Lions have signed Mike Hughes at an excellent value, given he is coming off of his best season. 

He brings good size and movement and has been considered their second-best corner after Oruwariye (this is no knock on Okudah, but he is still an unknown in real NFL action at this point).

The unit has tons of potential and looks to be an interesting match-up for the Eagles receiving room. 

2) Eagles LBs and Safeties vs Lions TE

As I mentioned previously, this was a tough spot for the Eagles last year. Despite an overall dominant showing on both sides of the ball, the Eagles linebackers and safeties were toasted by TE T.J. Hockenson.

It wasn’t as much the statistics of the game that were the most alarming but also that on film it looked like any time Goff wanted to go to Hockenson, he could with no issue. 

While Hockenson is a top-tier tight end who plays very similarly to Dallas Goedert, he still should not be getting receptions as easily as he was the last time these two teams met. 

This is where the upgrades made to the defensive unit this off-season should come to fruition. Last year the Lions were really able to pick on the Eagles linebackers in zone coverage, consistently drawing them into the run, only to throw over their heads.

While in certain zone sets, Kyzir throughout the preseason has shown the ability to drop into space and keep his bearings. His athleticism is clear, but it remains to be seen if his preseason success will carry over into the regular season.

LB T.J. Edwards will be at the Mike, likely splitting time with Nakobe Dean, as both are predominantly run stuffing players (TJ more so than Nakobe).

The hope is that Edwards will be more comfortable in the zones after a year in the system. While Dean likely won’t see the field much earlier in the season, the hope is that he will continue to grow and progress to eventually replace Edwards as he profiles to have a higher ceiling. 

The addition of Gardner-Johnson into the fold cannot be overstated when it comes to tight ends. In the past, the Eagles have had a combination of safeties, Avonte Maddox, and the linebacking corps cover tight ends. 

Now, however, the team finally has its first star since Malcolm Jenkins to step in and neutralize the other teams’ tight ends and bigger receivers that may pose a matchup issue with Avonte Maddox’s lack of arm length. 

Contrarily, even if the coaching staff decides to use Epps in the box and on tight ends because they don’t trust him as the single high safety, CJGJ’s abilities will make life hard on Goff this weekend and opposing quarterbacks throughout the season.

I know this is extremely high praise, but I truly believe CJGJ has all the potential in the world and is immediately going to change the look of our defense.

As CJ would say himself, he’d “guard God if you asked him to,” so he should be up to the challenge with Hockenson.

“You can tell me, try to go guard God; I’m gonna step out there. I’m a man.”

3) Mailata vs Hutchinson

The last matchup to watch has to be the trenches, especially with the Eagles. 

With Mailata returning as the starting tackle after beating out Andre Dillard last year, he is set to match up with the second overall draft pick from this year, Aidan Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was a top pick for a reason – the dude can flat-out play. He has great bend, violent hands, and a constant motor, basically making him the best fit for Dan Campbell possible (plus he’s a hometown kid and dominated at UMich. I imagine the Lions sprinted their card up to the podium as soon as the Jags took Walker). 

From everything our own Mar’Quell Fripp-Owens has found about the Lions (listen to P’s & Q’s for more!), Hutchinson will be lining up on the defensive right, meaning he will be lining up predominantly on Mailata who will be playing LT.

Hutchinson has a lot to like about his game and his coming out as a star would truly change the outlook on this Lions defense. He will look to get after Hurts and keep him uncomfortable all game. 

It is, however, rare for rookies, no matter how “NFL ready”, to step in and dominate immediately…, especially against a player like Jordan Mailata. 

Regardless, look for a great battle between two giants with Pro Bowl potential. 


Pick: Eagles 31, Lions 27

Bold Prediction: AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Goedert all get in the end zone.

Cover Image Credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

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