Saturday, December 7, 2013
Four keys for Detroit vs. Philadelphia
By Michael Rothstein
This could get very interesting.
Philadelphia has the fastest offense in the NFL, a group that prefers to run if it can but will pass when it must. Detroit has one of the most aggressive defensive lines in football, a run defense that has been impossible to penetrate over the past two months of the season, and an offense that can keep pace with the Eagles.
Plus, these are two teams fighting for berths in the playoffs. For Philadelphia, a win would at the very least allow the Eagles to keep pace with Dallas in the NFC East race, if not move into first place entirely. For Detroit, a win puts the Lions closer to its first-ever NFC North title.
So how do the Lions move closer? Here are four keys.
Work the right side of the line: The right side of Philadelphia’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection. The Eagles’ center, Jason Kelce, is a little bit undersized. This bodes well for Detroit’s front four, specifically defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. The entirety of the defensive line is coming off its best game of the season against Green Bay, remains fairly healthy, and has a mission of showing it can be more consistent over the final month of the season, an issue over the first three months of the season.
If Philadelphia focuses too much on Fairley and Suh, it will leave potential rush lanes for Ziggy Ansah, Willie Young and Devin Taylor, who have all shown glimpses of strong production throughout the season.
Get the ball to Calvin Johnson: This is obviously part of Detroit’s strategy on a weekly basis, but Philadelphia gives up more passing yards per game than any other team in the league. The Eagles' secondary has struggled against receivers this season -- Michael Floyd had five receptions for 99 yards and Larry Fitzgerald had five catches for 72 yards last Sunday -- and Johnson is the best in the game. Consider this: The team with the second-worst pass defense in the league is Dallas, and Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards against the Cowboys -- the second-best receiving game in NFL history. Also, 72 percent of the yards the Eagles have allowed this season have been passing yards.
Reach the 10-yard line: The Lions are the best team in the league in converting goal-to-go scenarios, scoring touchdowns on 83.3 percent of those trips. It also helps that perhaps more than any other team, Detroit is built to score close to the end zone. They have two massive red-zone targets in Johnson and tight end Joseph Fauria, along with both a downhill back in Joique Bell and a make-you-miss back in Reggie Bush. Being able to convert more often than not in those scenarios are what good teams are able to do.
Don’t stress inside the red zone: The Lions have been quite good inside the red zone this season -- ranked third in the NFL in red-zone defense with a 38.7 percent conversion rate. Meanwhile, Philadelphia, for all its speed and quickness and having LeSean McCoy in its backfield, is only 29th in red-zone efficiency offense, converting 46.2 percent of the its opportunities. That’s a good place for the Lions to be successful.