Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
When the dust settled over Ford Field on Thanksgiving, the Lions possessed a commanding victory, the NFCN lead, and the path to a home playoff game with the team’s first NFCN championship ever. Note, the path to and not the championship itself. The Lions still have to win some games, and none of the remaining four games will be as difficult as the one today against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are hot, with a defense that keeps improving to go along with a fast paced, new wave offense led by a QB that has yet to throw an interception (That hasn’t been wiped out by penalty).
As usual, there are many match ups that are obvious. Calvin Johnson vs. …um…whomever. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley vs. Kelce, Herremans, and Mathis. Lesean McCoy vs. the Lions LBs. Those are on the surface, big impact match ups that everyone will be looking for. What I’m looking at are which match ups are underneath the surface. So once again, here are six hidden match ups in this week’s Lions game!
Raw Athleticism vs. Mutant Monster
I’m not going to lie; I’ve waited all year for this one. Ziggy Ansah is a fantastic athlete, a special athlete, the kind we don’t normally see during draft time or even during our regular NFL seasons. It’s always exciting to think of the potential for a player like that. Then there are the Jason Peters’ of the world.
A blocking Tight End in college, Peters isn’t really a person but instead one of the advance guard of our future robot masters. If Calvin Johnson, another non-human, were a Left Tackle, he would be Jason Peters. Most will be looking at this match up as a battle of old vs. new, the newer wave of massive athletes against the old guard of freak-of-nature monsters. Me? I’m watching this to see if the best athletes humanity has to offer even stand a chance. Is resistance truly futile?
Detroit’s Secondary vs. Complete Embarrassment
The Lions have avoided the injury bug for most of the season, and that’s great. They didn’t make it through this week unscathed, however, as both Darius Slay and Chris Houston are injured. That leaves an all star cast of Rashean Mathis, Jonte Green, and Chris Greenwood (active for about a day) to defend the outside while Bill Bentley and Don Carey defend the slot. Will the Lions break Nick Foles interceptions streak? Can they make him make his first mistakes?
I would love to answer yes, but the Lions’ STARTERS at cornerback only have one interception on the season (Chris Houston) and the entire secondary doesn’t have one since week 4. I’m just hoping the team can come out with a win and not have the Lions drop 20 spots on the power rankings due to handing Foles the MVP for the season. It’s not impossible that Mathis will start on fire, Green will fill in perfectly (On Desean Jackson no less), and the light finally comes on for Chris Greenwood. Those things aren’t impossible. They’re just very, very unlikely.
DeAndre Levy vs. History
So, the country is starting to figure out that that DeAndre Levy guy is pretty good. For as much fan hate as Levy received his first few years, he’s receiving an equal amount of deserved fan homerism and praise, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think fans realize how amazing his season really has been. His six interceptions is a Lions high since Dre Bly in 2005 and a high for a Linebacker since Joe Schmidt in 1958. That’s a record Levy would take sole possession of if he is the one to force a Foles mistake.
He would also put some distance between himself and the next interception leader, putting him in a better position to be the first Linebacker EVER to lead the NFL in interceptions during the Super Bowl era. That’s a tall order, and it’s still a possibility Levy doesn’t make the Pro Bowl this year (Because popularity contests), but it’s possible and that is awesome. You’re watching history folks, only this time it’s hidden under 2 feet of freaky, mountain man beard.
The Whole Team vs. The Stretch
We’ve already seen instances where the Lions struggle with success. Jim Schwartz is an arrogant egoist and there are times it seems to rub off on the team. We as fans understand the importance of the final four games of the season, and while I’m sure the team knows that as well they also knew that against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. They’re sitting with a game and a half lead in the NFCN with a chance to clinch the division in two or three games, and that seems to be the part that they have been thinking about earlier in the season.
This game isn’t a must win, the Lions still have a pretty clear path without a win in Philadelphia, but it would do a LOT to put a nail in the Packers and Bears’ seasons. It’s an NFC opponent and a road game. If the team can keep their heads on straight and come out to play, even if they lose, it could set the tone for the final games down the stretch. Will we as fans be left wondering which team will show up next week? Or will we see a team play four quarters of uninterrupted, mistake free football, devoid of shooting themselves in the foot?
Gunther Cunningham vs. Chip Kelly
Chip Kelley’s new wave offense is a unique blend of a bunch of normal stuff and some speed to go along with some no huddle. In other words, it’s looked at as special but it’s really just a typical no huddle. Yes, there is more to it than that and I’m oversimplifying, but the aspect that most fear of Chip Kelly’s offense isn’t anything new. The Eagles have the 5th lowest time of possession in the NFL, but three other teams the Lions have faced this season are in the top ten and that 11th team? Detroit Lions.
Many will point to the Pittsburgh game and say that the Lions have struggled with the no huddle. While that’s true that they did struggle against Pittsburgh, I think that was more due to being unprepared for it than just generally being weak against no huddle. They faced a similar no huddle against Green Bay and blew it up like it was nothing, and that was more recent so I’m going with that. The problem I have isn’t that, but rather how Cunningham deals with the dual threat of Lesean McCoy and Nick Foles and co. The Lions have been superb at shutting down the run this season, but Cunningham tends to sell out to the run to do so often allowing the pass to be completed with ease. That’s not a winning formula against a team like the Eagles.
Another issue is how Chip Kelly has been able to adapt this season, something the Lions coaches in general have not been very good at. The concern for me isn’t that Chip Kelly’s offense will blow out the Lions through the air early and often, no. The concern for me is that Kelly’s offense will start hot and end just as hot because of adjustments at the half; or that they will start cold with Cunningham getting the best and end red smoking hot because Kelly made adjustments and Cunningham did not.
Matthew Stafford vs. Mistakes
Remember when the team started the season and there was buzz about Matthew Stafford’s accuracy and getting over the hump of bad decisions? Yeah, bad Matt came back in full force a few weeks ago and never really left. Despite the winning performance, which was truly amazing as it played out, Stafford started very cold against the Packers and made some of his now trademark bad decisions and bad throws.
Good Matt is a sight to behold, and we need some more of that, but it doesn’t even make sense how the Lions have been winning with as many turnovers as they’ve made. Reggie Bush deserves a dishonorable mention here, but it starts and ends with Matthew Stafford. The now all-time-leading-passer in Lions history has a big weight on his shoulders from the fan base who haven’t seen a home playoff game in two decades nor a playoff win in just as long. Playing a mistake free game, with no turnovers and no boneheaded overthrows would go a long way towards satisfying this fan base that is full of rabid fans wanting so badly for him to succeed.
With his pathetic record (QB wins are NOT a statistic) against winning teams, Stafford has a chance to put number jumpers like those to rest with a commanding victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Doing so would give the Lions more than just a path to a home playoff game, but a paved road with signs and everything. Do it to it Staff.