The opening game of the Thanksgiving slate sees the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Detroit to face the Lions. Both teams have struggled for consistency this season, and both need a win to stay on track. The Eagles are limping off two straight home losses, blowing a 16 point lead against the Dolphins to lose 20-19 and getting decimated 45-17 by Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rumours are emerging that Chip Kelly has lost the respect of the locker room and may not be long for Philadelphia, and he desperately needs a win to silence the whispers and keep his team in the playoff hunt. Detroit have bounced back from a dismal start to the season with two straight wins. The Lions won at Lambeau Field for the first time in over 20 years before beating the Oakland Raiders last week. Jim Caldwell will look to save his job with a third straight win – no easy feat, given that the Lions are just 2-11 on Thanksgiving since 2002.
Three Keys to the Game
The Lions defense has improved dramatically since being embarrassed by the Kansas City Chiefs at Wembley. They held Green Bay to 50 rushing yards in Week 10 and limited the Oakland Raiders to just 214 total yards last week. Against a Philly offense that is struggling under Mark Sanchez, the Lions defense should be in for another big game.
Philadelphia’s pass rush
The Lions have a potent offense stacked with playmakers, but have struggled to put points on the board this season thanks to a woeful offensive line and a non-existent running game. The latter has been stronger over the past couple of weeks, but the main danger from Detroit is still the passing game. Matthew Stafford has regressed yet again this season and now has a new offensive coordinator. Can the Eagles take advantage? This is a defense that let Jameis Winston throw five touchdown passes and allowed Doug Martin to rush for 235 yards. Before the last couple of weeks, the defense had been Philadelphia’s saving grace; now the unit is just another problem for Chip Kelly to fix. Much like the Lions offense, Philadelphia’s defense has some talented pieces, but hasn’t been utilised well this season.
Philadelphia’s running game
The Eagles’ offense lives and dies with the run game. When the backfield is productive, the Eagles are more competitive. When it’s held to 101 total rushing yards like it was against Tampa Bay, the Eagles get dominated. With Ryan Mathews still out, Philly’s running game has lost a dimension in recent weeks. Darren Sproles needs to be more involved in order to help Sanchez and the passing game. DeMarco Murray needs to be productive to keep the Eagles churning without Mathews.
Matchup to watch
DeMarco Murray vs Haloti Ngata
While Murray may not have to face Ndamukong Suh this year, Ngata is still a terror against the run. The experienced nose tackle will aim to share Philly’s backfield with Murray as much as possible. If Murray can’t find a way through, then Philly’s offense loses its main point of attack. The battle in the trenches will decide this game.
The Lions have the edge with a slightly more effective offense and a defense that can stifle a struggling Philly attack. The Eagles need to pick themselves up and find some motivation if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. But a loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving would likely sink their season.