Every Monday during the summer, positive or negative, we’re counting down the top 10 turning points from the season before.
The Detroit Lions didn’t do much consistently well in 2013 on defense, but the one thing they did with stunning regularity was stop opposing teams from running the football at a solid rate along their defensive line.
Even with a miserable performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in December that was likely due in part to rough conditions, Detroit still finished the season safely within the NFL’s top 10 in total run defense. They allowed 1,596 yards (4.2 per-attempt) and 10 touchdowns while keeping teams under 100 yards a game (99.8 per).
As good as their 2013 run defense statistics look considering the Lions’ historical troubles in that area, it’s tough to not think about how great they could have been if not for this game against the Eagles. With a freak blizzard complicating matters, the Lions had their hands and legs full trying to chase down and contain LeSean McCoy around on a slick, complicated track.
In situations where weather complicates matters, it’s always tough to say whether the advantage truly goes to the running back or the defensive line. Clearly though, that question was answered on this day. McCoy got off to a slow start, but with the Eagles needing him in the fourth quarter, he ripped off touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards to break the game open, and was nearly untouched on every long run.
Chris Polk, McCoy’s running mate, also got in on the action with a 38 yard touchdown scamper late in the quarter. Even Nick Foles, the tall, lanky quarterback not known for his running, found his way into the end zone. All told, Detroit was gashed for 299 yards and four scores. 217 of those yards went to McCoy, who was simply dominating.
With Detroit leading the game early in the midst of the storm of the century and Philadelphia’s offense not showing any signs of life, it seemed as if the game was already over. Chip Kelly decided to pound the ball at the Lions’ defensive line, however, and that decision was a game-changer. With every body blow that McCoy landed, Detroit was staggered further.
It was the roughest day the Lions would have on the ground, and considering McCoy would go on to become football’s leading rusher, it stood to reason in the end. Still, the effort was frustrating departure from the norm. Had Detroit simply been able to hold true to their statistics in the second half, they would have won the game and remained in the playoff picture for another week.
Instead, from Ndamukong Suh to Nick Fairley on down, they were run over in an embarrassing defeat in which mental fatigue became abundantly obvious.
In situations where the weather is playing a significant role on the field, neither the defensive line nor running back has an obvious advantage. It’s clear that the mentally stronger player is always the one to watch out for.
On this day, the Eagles had more of those players.