It’s the most wonderful time of the year, ladies and gentlemen – football is back, and with the return of the NFL comes the return of our favorite, kneecap-biting Detroit Lions. Expectations for the Lions have risen after a successful turn on Hard Knocks and another outstanding draft. However, they drew a less than ideal matchup for Opening Day against the Philadelphia Eagles, another team in the running early for most improvement this offseason. Of course, most fans remember what happened last time the Eagles were in Detroit, and it falls to head coach Dan Campbell and his group of self-described “football guys” to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. This can be best achieved by following the first installment of Sackrider’s Three Keys to the Game, which are as follows:
1. Seal off the pressure coming up the middle.
If you’ve read some of my other articles for NFCNorthReport.com, you’ll know I’m a big fan of how the Lions drafted this offseason. However, the Eagles also had themselves a spectacular weekend back in April, headlined by Georgia IDL Jordan Davis in the first round. Davis, by all accounts, has been an absolute monster in training camp, bullying Philly’s lineman back from the line of scrimmage seemingly by sheer will. It stands to tradition, of course, that injuries would strike the Lions O-Line when we need them most. RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai is on IR, out for four weeks, and his backup – Tommy Kraemer – hasn’t practiced this week and is in danger of missing the game on Sunday. The same is true of starting center Frank Ragnow, who’s status is uncertain. The Lions have yet to decide how the line will be adjusted for Sunday, but however they align their starters, the trick is to keep Philly’s nose tackles from blazing up the middle to deprive Jared Goff of the time he needs. In addition, when nose tackles can be depended on to create pressure, the linebackers and safeties have the ability to take away Goff’s safety-blanket checkdown weapons. Detroit’s interior linemen have to keep Goff clean for the offense to have a good day Sunday.
2. Play 2-High Safety.
The Eagles’ other big offseason acquisition was AJ Brown, who was acquired from Tennessee and immediately extended. With Devonta Smith on the other side of QB Jalen Hurts, Philly has the ability to stretch the field for big plays at a moment’s notice – so Detroit’s CBs need to be up to the task. The Lions will probably end up sitting in a two-high safety scheme, which puts pressure on the QB to throw short or force the run. DC Aaron Glenn employed this often against Aaron Rodgers last year, to great effect each time. This will enable starting corners Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah to enforce a no-fly-zone, with help from the starting safeties. However, this scheme is not without its problems – namely, that the QB has a much more open route to the slot receiver, or that Philly QB Jalen Hurts has exceptional rushing ability himself. For this reason, Key #3 is vital:
3. Let Rodrigo out to play.
If the Lions manage to lock down Philadelphia’s receivers, HC Nick Sirianni is sure to draw up some RPO options to work with his quarterback’s legs. It’s very easy to visualize Jalen Hurts sprinting to the sideline for five or six yards while Aidan Hutchinson is busy with the O-Line. Fortunately, Detroit has someone with speed who will be sitting back from the line of scrimmage and is capable of bringing some boom – LB Malcolm “Rodrigo” Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s star has been on the rise since Hard Knocks, and despite being a sixth round pick, he has been promised a large chunk of action on Sunday by Glenn. Despite having an underwhelming stature, he excels at identifying the play early, and blowing rushing QBs and slot receivers into last week. In my opinion, quick and decisive LB play can be how the Lions contain Hurts and a potentially dynamic Eagles offense, so it’s important for Rodriguez to show up as the player the coaches believe he can be.