If it’s possible to have a must-win game in week two of an NFL season, then this just might qualify for the Eagles. With a schedule loaded with quality opponents and tough road games in November and December, the Eagles can’t afford to start 0-2. Especially when one of those two losses would come against a Lions team that has won just three of its last 41 games. A defeat in Detroit definitely demonstrates the definition of demoralizing, and would be difficult to digest.
Beyond an overwhelming use of the letter “D,” both teams come into today’s contest with their backup quarterbacks leading the way after opening day injuries to Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. That’s where the similarities really end in that regard.
The Eagles hand things over to the much-maligned, but highly talented Michael Vick. The 30-year-old makes his first start since December 31, 2006 and the first since his incarceration. Vick hopes today marks a major step in resurrecting his career as a starter, and he certainly has the physical tools necessary. The bigger test will revolve around his ability to run the Eagles’ offense efficiently and minimize turnovers. While Vick’s ability to scramble may be the focus of the Lions’ gameplan, the quarterback knows that the skill around him gives him options. “I just have so many weapons around me and so much talent, that you know, you don’t have to do it all by yourself,” Vick said. “At some point in Atlanta, I felt like I had to do it all, and really I didn’t, but you know, that’s just a growing process.”
Shaun Hill meanwhile has started 16 games in his nine year career, with his lack of arm strength always limiting his upside. The Lions backup will try to lead their offense by utilizing his accuracy and decision making, but don’t expect him to be launching bombs to Calvin Johnson. Still, Hill has completed 61 percent of his NFL passes and thrown 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. His ability to guide the Lions offense may depend on Johnson’s ability to get open against the Eagles’ coverage.
The superstar wide receiver is always a threat, particularly considering his size. “He’s probably the only guy that’s 6’5” in the league playing receiver that can run the way, and you know that can jump and all that stuff. He’s just a freak athlete, so basically everybody goes in and tries to shut him down and he still has big games,” said Eagles’ safety Quintin Mikell. “We’ve got to key on him, we’ve got to know where he’s at, and if we’re in the area we have to make plays.”
At the end of the day, the Eagles ability to shut down Johnson may revolve around the pass rush. If there’s not much time to get open downfield, Johnson can’t burn the Eagles. Rookie defensive end Brandon Graham thinks the Eagles’ may have found a weakness inside. “Matchups, that all it us,” Graham said. “This week, the guard aint that good for the Lions, so they really want me to really be [lined up inside].”
Graham’s push up the middle could make Trent Cole even more effective in passing situations, thus keeping Hill under pressure and making it harder to find Johnson.
At the end of the day, every little thing could make a difference in a game with just a six point spread according to Las Vegas. With a pair of backups guiding the way and two teams not talked about as major post-season contenders, the supporting cast is likely to play an even bigger role.
Coming up around 12 on ITI, we’ll post the five keys to the game for the Eagles.
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