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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Eagles last game before the bye seems more important than your average Eagles vs. Lions game. It is an opportunity for the Eagles to make a statement.
That statement is one of two possibilities, as I see it.
1. “We’re getting this together, we can score points, and we will beat a team at home that we should beat.”
2. “We’re still a mess, we’re still going to turn this over, and we’re going to struggle with everyone.”
The Lions are 1-3, but to get a better look at why they are, I spoke to Sean Yuille, the managing editor of the fantastic Lions blog, Pride of Detroit.
Follow Sean on Twitter @PrideOfDetroit
And visit Pride Of Detroit for all of your Lions information.
Spike: One thing the Eagles and Lions share are big problems on special teams. Is there any end in sight for the Lions issues there?
Sean: I personally don’t see any end to the issues as long as special teams coordinator Danny Crossman is around. While the players certainly have to do a better job of executing, it’s not like this is something new. The Lions have had issues covering returns for quite some time. Jim Schwartz called out the players on the special teams units for their poor play in the preseason, but that clearly hasn’t done much to help now. The coaches can blame the players all they want, but I fear it’s more than just an execution problem. Schwartz isn’t planning to make any coaching changes during the season, but if the struggles continue he may have no choice but to fire Crossman.
Spike: It’s no secret that Calvin Johnson has only caught one touchdown pass from Stafford (actually zero, Sean corrects me below) this year, what has been the problem there?
Sean: The one touchdown pass actually came from Shaun Hill at the end of the Titans game after Matthew Stafford left with an injury. It’s tough to nail down one specific cause of the lack of scoring for Megatron. Part of it stems from the fact that defenses are keying in on him more than they did last season. I suppose that’s no surprise given the year he had. Another issue is that Stafford hasn’t been all that consistent and has really struggled in the red zone. A lot of Johnson’s touchdowns last year came in the red zone, and the Lions as a team are really struggling to find the end zone once they get inside the 20. All of these factors are contributing to the lack of scoring for Johnson.
Spike: The Lions look like they had an answer at running back with Mikel Leshoure, and then he had a rough week against the Vikings. What have you seen from him so far?
Mikel Leshoure has shown a lot of potential. His running style is one we haven’t seen from a Lions running back in some time. He can make defenders miss, and he can also run right over them. The problem is that he often has to make defenders miss as soon as he gets the ball. The Lions’ offensive line is not good at run blocking, and more often than not Leshoure has to avoid tackles in order to simply get back to the line of scrimmage. It probably won’t matter who is in the backfield as long as the Lions go forward with their current set of starters on the O-line.
Spike: At 1-3, can the Lions turn this season around and become a playoff team?
Sean: They certainly can get things turned around. Really, if you take away the special teams meltdowns, the Lions would be a 3-1 team. Of course, one-third of the game is special teams, so you can’t necessarily dismiss that. My point is that as bad as they’ve looked at times, the Lions have the ability to be much better than a team that falls out of contention this early in the season. That’s not to say they will actually get things turned around, but the talent and potential is certainly in place. It’s just up to the coaches and players to clean things up and get back to playing the way they did at the start of the 2011 season.
Spike: Give me the way the Lions win this game, and the way the Eagles win this game.
Sean: If the Lions can get their offense in rhythm from the very start of Sunday’s game and score touchdowns instead of having to settle for field goals, they can beat the Eagles. Oh, and shutting down the Eagles on special teams would also be a big help.
For Philly, the formula to win is quite simple. Play smart offensively and don’t turn the ball over. On defense, focus on shutting down Calvin Johnson and putting pressure on Matthew Stafford. Finally, on special teams, look for a big play or two to happen at some point and chances are the Lions aren’t leaving Philly with a victory.