A few thoughts on today’s game, after which the Eagles could be in sole position of 1st place (I think Chicago’s got a good shot to knock of Dallas).
– Depending on the weather, this is a game where the general strategy should be more “aggressive” than usual. We’ve got a great offense against a mediocre defense (Eagles v. Detroit) and a mediocre offense against a bad defense. In both cases, we expect the offense to have a significant advantage, that’s why most people are projecting a shootout. That means field position has less relative value than normal. For example, giving Detroit the ball at the 20 yard line isn’t worth that much more than giving them the ball at the 40 yard line (their’s).
In other words, the bar for going for it on 4th down should be lower, and TDs should be prized more heavily than usual over field goals. Also, it’s a great game for a surprise onside kick.
If the weather is awful, it changes things a bit, but that depends on what type of bad weather there is. If the offenses are unimpaired, then the “right” play is to be aggressive, because you have to assume Detroit is going to move the ball well against the defense.
– Tough test for the O-Line. Nothing groundbreaking here, but the Lions have perhaps the best DT combo in the league (Suh and Fairley), with rookie Ziggy Ansah at DE (remember him? he was the #1 prospect on my TPR rankings). Together, those three have 16 sacks, with 9 coming from the DTs. They’re going to get pressure today, the key is how difficult it is for them. If they can consistently give Foles problems with just 4 d-linemen, the Eagles are in trouble.
The plus side is that the Lions d-line is very aggressive (wide-9 anyone?), meaning it can be pulled out of position with misdirection, which just happens to be the Eagles’ specialty. I’m expecting a lot of PA, back-side screens, and maybe an end-around. Ansah and Suh are going to get upfield regardless, might as well take advantage of it.
– Can the Eagles get pressure? Perhaps the most surprising Lions stat of all is Matt Stafford’s sack percentage this year. He leads the league at just 2.9%. Foles, by comparison, is at 8%. He also throws the ball more than anyone else in the league. Today is the toughest test for the Eagles defense since it played Denver..and we all know how that turned out. By DVOA, Dallas ranks higher than Detroit, but based on the match ups, I think Detroit poses more problems for the Eagles. Patrick Chung needs to have a much better game than last week, and the LBs have to be very alert for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as receivers out of the backfield (they have a combined 79 receptions).
I expect the Lions to score a lot. The key for the Eagles is to create a turnover or two so the offense has extra possessions to keep up/go ahead. Any drive that ends in a Lions field goal is a success.
– The Eagles play the Vikings next week….That means a win today likely gets them to 9-5 going into that last two games of the year (Chicago and Dallas). Basically, a win today up the expected win total to 10 wins, and 10 wins probably gets you the division title. See what I’m saying? If Aaron Rodgers come back next week to play the Cowboys, a win today might make the final game of the year a moot point. So yeah, it’s pretty important.
I’ll leave it there for now. I think the Eagles are SLIGHTLY more likely to win (if you saw my odds column on BGN, I had the Eagles -2 in my projection), but it’s close enough that a single turnover or STs return could make the difference (or onside kick!). Good luck to anyone at the game…it’s days like this I’m happy I don’t have tickets.