Each week, Patrick Wall previews the upcoming game by looking at the biggest storylines of the week.
On Sunday, the Eagles will look to improve to 4-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2004. To do it, they’ll need to beat a Detroit Lions team that appears to match up well with The Eagles. Through four games, Detroit’s pass defense has allowed 1,087 yards through the air (22nd in the league), and an NFL-worst 120.2 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
That’s 12 touchdowns allowed, and one intercepted pass through four games. Remind me again - don’t the Eagles have a quarterback who is off to a pretty nice start?
Carson Wentz should benefit from a favorable matchup through the air, but odds are good he’ll have some more help from the Lions’ defense. As some hack named Jimmy Kempski pointed out earlier this week, Detroit has one of the least experienced pass rushes in the NFL, which should be a help for an offensive line that has started to come together nicely (more on that later).
As always, the caveat here is that Wentz is still a rookie, and the spectre of his first bad game will loom until it actually happens. But on paper, this matchup is about as favorable as any Eagles fan could reasonably hope.
On the other sideline, though, the Eagles defense will have its collective hands full. While the Lions’ run game has been stagnant (their 92.3 yards rushing per game puts them 22nd league-wide), their offense has been what keeps them in games.
Matthew Stafford’s passing offense is putting up 284 yards per game, and wide receiver Marvin Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season. Through four games, he’s second in the league with 482 yards, second only to Julio Jones, the guy who compiled 300 yards last week. And, oh yeah, Jones only has six fewer yards.
This week the Eagles are expecting to have cornerback Leodis McKelvin back, so the murderer’s row may have finally ended for rookie Jalen Mills. Expect an arial attack from both teams on Sunday afternoon.
The New #Culture
As you likely already know, Nigel Bradham can’t seem to stay out of the news for the wrong reasons. First, he was arrested over the summer for allegedly assaulting a hotel worker in Miami. Then, over the bye week, he was arrested for having a handgun in his bag when going through airport security.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said it best this week: "You do dumbass things, pretty soon you're going to be labeled a dumbass". Poignant.
But perhaps even more telling than this quote is what Doug Pederson has said about these incidents. In his press conference Wednesday, Pederson gave a lukewarm response to the idea of any in-house disciplinary actions:
I'm going to wait and see. Listen, he's been talked to by a lot of people already. He understands. I'm just going to wait and see what happens. I'll keep talking to him like normal, all the guys, and just keep reminding them that we've got to make good, smart decisions away from the building.
That ain’t exactly a Chip Kelly-esque response to matters of discipline. But Pederson has so far broken with his predecessor’s preference for bringing in the guys with squeaky clean records, so it’s not too surprising. Pederson and Howie Roseman have taken chances on guys like Jaylen Mills and Dorial Green-Beckham this year.
Do you think either of those players are in Eagles green last season?
As a head coach or general manager, finding the right balance between on-field talent and off-field concerns is an inexact science. A lot of it, frankly, has to do with feel: can your locker room handle a guy like this? Do you get the sense that his past behavior is behind him? Is his past behavior so heinous that bringing him in is a non-starter?
Clearly the Eagles have erred on the side of talent over culture this season, something we at BGN have openly discussed. Pederson’s inaction with Bradham’s second run-in with the law is as telling as the first, but what will be worth watching is how he and the team handle Bradham’s upcoming court case for his first Miami arrest. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison, per Zach Berman of the Inquirer.
The Eagles are 3-0, thanks in part to the contributions of players other coaches and front offices might not have wanted. Will it end up having an adverse effect in the long run? It’s certainly a question worth thinking about as the season progresses.
What’s In A Peptide?
The Lane Johnson suspension saga continued this week, and all indications are that Johnson will play this Sunday in Detroit. Beyond that is a mystery, but adding up the pieces, it seems like there may be more to this story than a simple violation.
To recap: on Tuesday, Johnson’s attorney, Steve Zashin, issued a statement to Jeff McLane of the Inquirer saying he expected Johnson to play on Sunday. But it was the end of Zashin’s statement that bears repeating.
Statement from Lane Johnson's attorney Steve Zashin on the #Eagles' OL's appeal: pic.twitter.com/P6hLtdoGLi— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) October 4, 2016
"Many of these issues strike at the heart of substantive player protections." Clearly, Johnson’s camp views this matter as more than a simple matter of "he screwed up, but we are fighting the good fight for our client" kind of situation.
Johnson was officially handed a suspension in Week 2, but was able to play against Pittsburgh and is expected to play in Detroit. According to Johnson, he was suspended after testing positive for peptides, though he claimed that he took an approved amino acid. The NFLPA provides players with an app called Aegis Shield, which indicates to players which substances are approved for use by the NFL.
The length of time for which this battle has continued seems to indicate that Johnson and his team are going in with the strategy of putting the whole system on trial. The results of the arbitration will be interesting because, even if Johnson is correct in his claim that the substance he took is approved, the NFLPA previously said in a statement that it reminds players that the app does not guarantee supplements contain substances not listed on the label.
But if the NFLPA’s recommended app can’t even tell players which substances they can take worry-free, what’s the point of the app at all? And when something like this happens, shouldn’t the NFLPA - you know, the union dedicated to the defense of players in the National Football League - be taking his side? Johnson called out the union when this saga began in August, and their response was essentially a shoulder shrug. No wonder A-list players like Aaron Rodgers have spoken out against the union and its relationship to the league.
The silver lining in all of this is that Johnson may get off free, or even have a reduced sentence. It certainly would make this already charmed season feel a little more unreal. But at the very least, the Eagles should have him for Sunday’s game when they try to go undefeated through four games for the first time since the magical 2004 campaign.