The Detroit Lions, quickly entering a stage of desperation, try to end a three-game losing streak Sunday on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Is it time for the Eagles to break out DeSean Jackson on special teams to exploit the Lions’ obvious weakness?
Jackson, one of the game’s most electrifying players, has had his punt-return duties reduced to nothing so far this year.
He is a $10-million-a-year receiver now since signing a new contract. You want to keep guys like that healthy and fresh on offense.
But the Eagles are hurting for points, ranking second-to-last in scoring at 16 a game, and Jackson is a game-breaking weapon. The coaching staff has said in the past that Jackson could be used on punt returns in key situations.
Philadelphia ranks tied for 28th in punt returns (6-yard average) and 30th in kickoff returns (19.6). Rookies Damaris Johnson (punts) and Brandon Boykin (kicks) have been handling the returns.
The Lions, meanwhile, allowed both a kick return and a punt return for touchdowns in each of the last two games. It remains to be seen whether they’ll make the necessary corrections coming out of a bye week.
The best way to find out? Put Jackson back there on punts. He won’t get injured if he doesn’t get touched.
2. This game begins a five-week stretch for the Lions in which they play four on the road.
They were road warriors last year with a 5-3 record, but they’re 0-2 this season, losing to San Francisco and Tennessee.
Philadelphia is 2-0 at home with narrow victories over two very good teams, Baltimore by one point and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants by two points.
After Philly, the Lions have a Monday night match-up at Chicago. Lose both of them and they’ll drop to 1-5, a hole that quite likely will be too deep to dig out of and still make the playoffs.
More than anything, the Lions have to start finishing the job. They rank No. 3 in total offense (412.3 yards a game) and No. 9 in total defense (giving up 315.8 yards).
But they’re tied for 11th in scoring (25 points per game) and they’re 26th in points allowed (28.5).
They need to turn field goals (12 so far) into touchdowns (only nine), force some turnovers (just three takeaways, including no interceptions) and stop giving up special-teams scores.
Somebody apparently thinks that’s going to happen. Philadelphia has dropped from a 6 ½-point favorite to 3 ½, a significantly large movement for a NFL game with no apparent major injury involved.
3. Philadelphia’s defensive line has been advertised as deep and talented, arguably one of the best in the NFL.
Sound familiar? Detroit’s front four has received similar hype.
But the Eagles rank 29th in sacks (seven in five games), while the Lions are tied for 20th (nine in four games, one less game than many teams have played).
“Even though our sack number’s not up, we’re still playing good defense,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said.
Defensive end Jason Babin leads Philadelphia with 2 ½ sacks. The Eagles are giving up 19.8 points a game, 10th in the league.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh leads the Lions with three sacks. He is on pace for 12 this season, which would be two more than he had two years ago as a rookie when he was a Pro Bowl starter.
There’s a little family feud in the trenches for this match-up: Philadelphia defensive line coach Jim Washburn happens to be the father of Lions assistant offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn.
4. These are two teams in need of earlier wake-up calls. They’ve both been terribly slow starters.
The Lions have gotten outscored 60-31 in the first half of their four games, partly because they’ve had to settle for too many field goals.
The Eagles are even worse, getting outscored 57-24 in the first half of their five games, largely because of early turnovers.
We’re not expecting anybody to come out sizzling. Let’s just say the game could be won by the team that doesn’t start quite as slow.
5. Some were predicting a break-out season for Lions second-year receiver Titus Young.
But Young has been hampered by a knee injury and has only nine catches for 117 yards. Even back-up running back Joique Bell has more receptions (12) and yardage (175).
Young caught the Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired against Tennessee, but he hasn’t done much else.
His lack of discipline has continued to show, too, with an occasional dumb penalty.
But if Young gets healthy and teams continue to put so much attention on the Lions’ other receivers, he could still have an impact over these final 12 weeks.
“He’s getting a lot of the singles (single coverage),” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We’ve got to start making teams pay for that.”
Defensive end Cliff Avril (back), safety Louis Delmas (knee) and defensive tackle Sammie Hill (toe) are officially listed as questionable by the Lions.