The Detroit Lions head into Philadelphia on Sunday after a week off to contemplate their consecutive losses at the hands of the Titans and Vikings. Many expected Detroit to enter the bye at 3-1, but a lack of discipline and special teams miscues have led the team down dire straits heading into week 6. It is still much too early at this point to count a team out of playoff contention, but a 1-4 start would bury this team considering their lack of leadership and “been there before” can-do attitude. Detroit needs a winning streak to keep pace with Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC North race, and it must begin this week in Philadelphia.
Lions Front 4 vs. Michael Vick
The Lions desperately need to get back to basics and doing the little things well, in order to correct their slide from relevance. That means a return to what brought them from the gutters in the first place; a ferocious defensive line. The front four have underachieved to this point across the board, and have suffered key injuries to Corey Williams and Cliff Avril. Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill were largely ineffective in extended action against Minnesota. Both players will need to prove their value, specifically Fairley, considering that he was selected 13th overall in 2011. If Cliff Avril is limited or unable to go on Sunday due to his back injury, the promising Willie Young must take advantage of the opportunity to shine as an every down player. Young has shown potential at times, but has yet to truly be tested in an extended role.
Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks is always a goal of any defense, but it is exponentially important when attempting to mask a weak secondary. Michael Vick has been a turnover machine this season, and forcing the unsteady signal caller into quick reads and last minute decisions will almost always benefit the defense. The Lions at times have been over aggressive in their pursuit of a significant pass rush, and the break down in assignments can open up running lanes for athletic quarterbacks to exploit. The Lions must get pressure, but must do so under control and with regard for assignments and positioning. Pressure Vick into throwing and turnovers will happen, pressure him with an opportunity to run, and it will be a long afternoon for the Detroit defense.
Calvin Johnson vs. Nhamdi Asomugha
The Lions offense must also get back to their bread and butter from last season. A concerted effort must be made to get the ball downfield to Calvin Johnson. Many teams utilize the run game to open up downfield passing. The Lions offense utilizes their deep threats to open up the underneath passing game, and quick run game by forcing teams into 2 deep coverage. More than at any point this season, Stafford will see single high safety coverage, given the Eagles’ propensity for blitzing. This will often leave Johnson in critical matchups with All-Pro Nhamdi Asomugha. Asomugha has shown flashes of mediocrity since joining the Eagles, and although his height and size match up well against Johnson, the Lions should be able to have some success throwing in his direction. If Johnson has success down the field, or even threatens deep, it will force Philadelphia out of their game plan, limiting blitzes, and forcing 2-deep coverage. When an offense is able to dictate to a defense and force them away from their scheme, success usually follows. Stafford can take advantage of the deep shell coverage by throwing underneath, and begin dictating defensive adjustments. In order to be successful, the Lions must take shots down the field to Johnson early and often, regardless of double coverage.
Other Matchups to Watch
All eyes will be on the Detroit special teams units this Sunday after consecutive abysmal performances. The Eagles are always a special teams threat with DeShaun Jackson returning punts, and Philly must be licking their chops for a shot at the subpar Lions unit. If Lions coaches failed to address their special teams miscues from previous weeks, and continue to give up points in this phase of the game, it will be clear that a change needs to be made, and that the Lions dreams of consecutive playoff appearances are well out of reach.