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Eagles offense vs. Lions defense preview by the numbers

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions

As well as the weekly film stuff I do, I am adding to my Eagles workload by doing some statistical breakdowns for Bleeding Green this year! My aim is to use Sports Info Solutions to breakdown and analyse each matchup. This article will focus on the Eagles offense vs. the Lions defense, and I will break down the Eagles defense vs. the Lions offense in a separate post. The aim with these posts will be to search through a ton of data, just like NFL teams will be doing, in order to try and predict what we might see and give you a lot more knowledge and things to look out for when watching the game.

Keep in mind this is week 1, so all stats are based on last year. But as the Lions have the same HC and many of the same starters, I imagine this will still be pretty relevant!

Passing Game

Let’s start by looking at the Eagles passing game and how it lines up against the Lions.

The Lions pass defense was not good last year. At all.

  • 4384 yards allowed (11th highest)
  • 31 touchdowns allowed (joint 3rd)
  • 141 QB hurries (27th)
  • 30 sacks (30th)
  • 11 interceptions (joint 19th)

That’s pretty terrible overall. Obviously the Lions have added Aiden Hutchinson in the draft, but they haven’t acquired much more talent on the defensive side of the ball. These are some specific things that interest me about this matchup.

3rd and medium/long

This one is really interesting. We know Jalen Hurts struggled in 3rd and medium/long (7+ yards) situations last year. Last year these were Hurts number of 3rd and 7+.

53% completion (25/47) for 368 yards (ranks 28th amongst all QBS - below Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson).

The Lions defense was fascinating on 3rd and 7+. They didn’t seem to care if they gave up big plays and tried all sorts of things. They gave up a huge 779 yards which ranked 3rd highest overall. But, they also 5 interceptions (ranks 5th) and 3 dropped interceptions (ranks 4th). The Lions 3rd down defense is basically boom or bust, so I looked at some more data. Here’s what to expect from the Lions on 3rd and 7+.

Firstly, they are quite difficult to predict in terms of man or zone coverage. They used 33 snaps of man coverage and 46 snaps of zone coverage.

But the pass rush is where it gets wacky...

Yes, you read that correctly. On 3rd and 7+ the Lions blitzed more than any other team in the league and also rushed 3-men at the 2nd highest rate. That’s pretty mental.

Hurts barely faced any 3-man rushes last year, so it’s a bit of an unknown. But, we do have quite a lot of data on Hurts vs the blitz. Hurts completed 52% of his passes (58/111) for 836 yards (ranks 18th). Here’s the worry though, if you look at 3rd and 7+ and include only 5+ man rushes, Hurts completed only 42% (5/12) of his passes for 68 yards.

Spoiler: If the Lions can get the Eagles into 3rd and medium, expect to see some blitzes. The Eagles better have some answers.

Can Hurts improve against man coverage?

When watching the Lions defense, expect to see a pretty high % of man coverage from them. They ranked 12th highest in the league in man coverage snaps last year.

Hurts struggled a fair bit against cover 1, cover 2 man and cover 0 last year. Throwing at 48%, 7.9 YPA, and 5 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. So I would not be surprised to see the Lions use a lot of man coverage this weekend. If they do this though, they better have a plan for new signing AJ Brown. Brown was the 14th best WR against cover 1, cover 2 man and cover 0 last year with 379 yards and 5 touchdowns (joint 2nd!). The Titans EPA per play with Brown in the line-up past year was 0.06 with Brown and -0.16 without him. That’s an insane difference of 0.22 EPA per play with Brown on the field. Good luck to the Lions if they go heavy man coverage this week.

Time for Play-Action?

The Lions last year struggled against play-action, giving up 1573 yards (6th highest) and a huge 14 touchdowns (2nd highest). Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts was 68% on play-action throws last year, with 1270 yards which ranked 111th highest in the league. His YPA went up from 6.7 to 9 with play-action. This could be the perfect game to get to play-action again.

Running Game

Despite saying the Eagles should fancy themselves to throw against the Lions, they also will be excited about the prospect of running the ball on early downs against the Lions.

Firstly, the Lions run defense was also not at all good last year.

  • 2296 yards allowed (5th highest)
  • 19 touchdowns allowed (5th)
  • 49 broken tackles (1st! the next closest was 43)
  • 1260 yards allowed on 1st down (4th)

This brings me to one of my main points...

Don’t stop running on first down

When you look at the Lions tendencies on defense, it’s easy to see why they struggled with the run. That 1st down number will have the Eagles coaches very, very excited. So why did they struggle on 1st down?

The Lions do not want to give up big plays on 1st down and they played a lot of light boxes and two-high shells (sounds familiar). The number that stands out for me is the 96 snaps of a light box against running plays. That ranked the highest amongst all NFL teams.

If the Lions run a light box against the Eagles on 1st down, the Eagles are going to run the ball a ton on early downs on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if the Lions adjust their approach radically.

Spread it out to run

The Lions defended 11 personnel (3 receivers) very cautiously last year. Just look at these numbers.

They played very light boxes with 2-high shells against 11 personnel, obviously hoping to take away the big plays. The Eagles should use this to their advantage and could absolutely use 11 personnel on early downs to set up the run.

However, if the Eagles want to go heavy... then by all means go heavy.

Time for 12 personnel

If the 11 personnel running game doesn’t take off, the Eagles can just go heavy and play smashmouth football. These were the Lions numbers against 12 personnel last year.

  • 10 rushing touchdowns allowed (the next highest was 7!!)
  • 670 yards (5th)

Why was this? The Lions remained in a 2-high shell 50% of the time against 12 personnel, which ranked 10th highest in the league. If the Lions want to sit in 2-high shells against 12 personnel, the Eagles are going to run the ball. A lot.

Run to the left

Another good matchup for the Eagles is the left side of their offensive line. On runs to the left, the Eagles had the most yards in the NFL last year with 1362 yards. The Lions gave up 1096 yards to the left, which ranked 5th highest in the league. Keep an eye out for Aiden Hutchinson, let’s see if the Lions use him to the right side of their defense in order to try and help against this.

Thanks for reading as always. As this was the first time doing this, please let me know any feedback and I will keep updating the layout throughout the season until I am content with it!

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