The first quarter of the season hasn't gone quite as planned for the Detroit Lions.
After just four games there's already talk of having a sense of urgency.
"We do need to play emotional. We do need to, for lack of a better word, put a chip on the shoulder and things like that," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "I think part of that has to do with coming out early in the game and establishing ourselves and not relying on coming back and playing close at the end of games. We're a 1-3 team looking for a win."
One year removed from opening 5-0, the Lions look to halt a three-game losing streak when they invade Lincoln Financial Field to take on a Philadelphia Eagles squad that was downed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Detroit licked its wounds during the recent bye week and hopes the time off and plenty pf preparation pays dividends.
"We need to play with that violent passion that we had last year and the year before, so this is good for us," Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "It's early enough in the season where I could say that. If this was December, I would be a little bit more frustrated."
All three of the Lions' losses have come by no more than eight points, and dropped a 20-13 decision versus Minnesota on Sept. 30. Running the football has been an issue for Detroit, which is 24th in the league with 90.2 yards per game, and the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection was slowed by the Vikings. In the loss to the Vikes, Johnson caught five passes for 54 yards after averaging 123 yards receiving the first three weeks.
The Lions will face an Eagles defense that has had trouble at the safety position and could be in line for a big afternoon. Johnson always brings his 'A' game, but if Philadelphia takes a page out of Minnesota's playbook, Megatron may suffer through another mediocre performance. Stafford has to get Johnson the ball and didn't have much comfort in the pocket versus Minnesota, as he was sacked a season-high five times for a loss of 33 yards.
Speaking of losses, the run game has been absent in Detroit. One week after rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, Mikel Leshoure was bottled up for 26 yards on 13 touches. Joique Bell will see some carries as well Sunday. Detroit is only 24th in rushing, averaging 90.2 yards per game, while the Eagles are 12th in run defense. The Lions could get a boost a week from now when Jahvid Best is expected to come off the PUP list due to a concussion suffered last season. Best, of course, will need clearance from the medical staff.
As for now, expect the Lions to air it out on the Eagles. Johnson leads the league with 46 touchdown catches since 2008 and has been impressive on the road lately, collecting 38 receptions for 716 yards and four TDs in his previous four games as the guest.
Philadelphia will face another team coming off a bye and it didn't work out in its favor at Pittsburgh. Coming off an emotional win over the NFC East-rival New York Giants, the Eagles fought their way to the end against the Steelers and Michael Vick drove the team down the field for a late lead.
However, the defense fell apart and allowed the Steelers to drive into Philadelphia territory for the game-winning 34-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham for a 16-14 decision. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of a wide-open Eagles defense on 3rd-and-12, hitting Antonio Brown for 20 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall did the rest of the work.
Turnovers once again haunted the Eagles, who may not have needed a defensive stop at the end had they protected the football and limited mistakes.
"You can't do that in a good place; a stadium on the road against a good football team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You just can't do it. We put ourselves in position to win the game. We need to make sure we get off the field on that last drive."
In contrast to what Reid touched on the final drive, the Eagles have scored only seven points in the first quarter this season. Usually known for setting the tone early offensively, the Eagles have struggled on their opening drive of the game and it all points back to one glaring aspect: turnovers. Execution and spotty play calling have attributed to the Eagles' 29th rank in points scored (16.0 ppg).
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy shared his views on what the Eagles can do.
"Get some points and get it rolling," McCoy said. "That's what we need to do. Build some momentum, you know? It helps the offense."
McCoy said before the Steelers game he doesn't need a load of touches to get going and that some other running backs do. McCoy, who has carried the ball at least 20 times on three occasions this season, was held to a season low 53 yards on 16 touches last weekend. He did manage to convert two 4th-and-1 situations, but overall the Steelers were able to bottle him up after taking away Vick's receiving targets.
The Eagles haven't lost back-to-back games since last Nov. 27 - Dec. 1, and will be in for a big surprise versus Detroit if they're not prepared.
Philadelphia has won the last six meetings with Detroit, including the playoffs, and won the previous matchup, 35-32, on Sept. 19, 2010. The Lions are winless in their last four trips to south Philly, and that includes a 58-37 postseason setback on Dec. 30, 1995.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Turnovers and Vick have become as synonymous as beans and cornbread. Vick has fumbled eight times this season, losing five, but has actually cut out the interceptions. He was picked off six times over the first two weeks and has been pick free the past three. Vick had a costly fumble at the goal line on Sunday and it could have changed Pittsburgh's mindset had he scored on a QB sneak. The Eagles' defense, though, was able to keep it close.
Vick is still subject to hits and sacks, going down at least twice in every game this season, and was sacked three times in Pittsburgh. The mobile Vick is playing behind an offensive line that has seen better days and is without two starters (Jason Kelce, Jason Peters). Philadelphia's offense has had trouble scoring points despite a winning record (3-2) and will once again try to get McCoy going early. Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek weren't much of a factor last week. Schwartz knows they could get hot at any moment.
"Good players. I think it starts with the quarterback," Schwartz said. "He's turned the ball over a little bit, but he still can make plays and he can still lead the team down the field like he did the last drive against Pittsburgh. Very talented group on offense."
Schwartz was asked if the Lions will make any effort to create turnovers against such a prone team, and he said the defense just has to worry about doing its job, playing fast and sticking to the game plan. If that happens the "turnovers will come." Detroit has recovered all three of its forced fumbles, but is one of two teams (Oakland) with no interceptions. For the Lions' sake, the Eagles are a minus-7 in give-away, take-away.
Stafford hasn't fumbled yet this season and has been interception free in the previous two weeks. He did not have a touchdown pass or a turnover in the loss to the Vikings, and will be key in helping Detroit to a win on Sunday. The offensive line has to do a better job in protecting Stafford if the last game was any indication, as he went down five times. He was able to rest and focus during the bye week, and evaluate the mistakes that put the team in a hole.
"Everybody obviously enjoys the bye week for the physical part of it, being able to get their bodies back a little bit," Stafford said. "But I think it's a good opportunity for us ... mentally it's such a stressful job and emotionally you have to get away from it sometimes and regroup and get ready to go again."
The Lions will need Stafford to be clicking on all cylinders with his receivers since the run game has seen better days. However, the Eagles have struggled this season in getting to the quarterback and perhaps Jim Washburn's "wide nine" defense is exposing some flaws. Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole, two of the best at their position, have accounted for just four sacks this season after combining for 29 a year ago.
Detroit's hearts will be heavy Sunday following the passing of Alex Karras this week, but the emotions will not carry over to a win. This game will be a big one for McCoy, who is due for a 160-plus yard performance and owns 674 yards and nine touchdowns in the past seven games at home. The Lions are decent against the rush, ranking 13th in the NFL (102.8 ypg), but won't have their best stuff even with Ndamukong Sue and Kyle Vanden Bosch anchoring a dangerous front line. Detroit shouldn't have a problem getting to Vick often, it's the 10 other players on the field it has to be wary of.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 31, Lions 13