Eagles-Lions matchups to watch in Week 1

The Eagles open their season in Detroit on Sunday against the Lions of Hard Knocks fame.

Last season, the Eagles won nine games and the Lions won just three. One of those nine wins for the Eagles came in Detroit…a 44-6 rout of the Lions.

“We recognized to our players that this is a team that can make you look stupid,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said this week. “Because they did it to us last year. If we are not in the details and do not play with effort, we will be ashamed. Because Philly is capable of it. That’s the big takeaway for us.”

Let’s take a look at some key matches:

Lions receivers vs. Eagles cornerbacks

One of the Lions’ big offseason acquisitions was receiver DJ Chark, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract. This gives them a solid trio of Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds. St. Brown was a fourth-round pick last season, but ended up having a fantastic rookie season. He had 90 catches for 912 yards and 5 touchdowns. It’s not the best receiving corps the Eagles will see this year, but it’s solid.

St. Brown plays mostly out of the slot, so it will be a good test for Avonte Maddox in this game.

Depleted Lions OL defensive line against Eagles

Lions may be in trouble. Former Eagle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, now the Lions’ starting right guard, was placed on IR earlier this week. So he is out for this game. And now starting center Frank Ragnow is dealing with a groin injury. He was limited on Wednesday but missed Thursday’s session.

So now the Lions are scrambling and considering their options. One of them would be to play Ragnow at guard if he plays and they have even talked about moving Penei Sewell to guard. It’s not ideal to have a big offensive line shuffle days before the opener, especially not when the Lions are preparing to play a defensive line with Haason Reddick, Josh Swat, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Jordan Davis and others. This might be the most important play in this game and the Eagles have a definite advantage.

TJ Hockenson vs. CJ Gardner-Johnson

While the Lions were blown out the last time these teams played, their former first-round tight end had a big performance with 10 catches for 89 yards. That’s the most catches Hockenson has had in a game. And the Eagles last season gave up more catches (107) and touchdowns (14) to tight ends than any other team in the league. They also gave up 1,035 yards; only five teams gave up more.

So stopping tight ends will be a big deal in year two of Jonathan Gannon’s scheme, and the Eagles just added a linebacker who should be very good at it. Gardner-Johnson has played primarily in the slot during his NFL career, but he played safety for the Eagles. At 5-11, 210 pounds, CGJ is better suited to cover some bigger slot receivers and tight ends than Maddox, who is great against most slot receivers. This is likely how we will see CGJ used throughout the season and his Eagles career will begin with a good test.

Eagles tackles Aidan Hutchinson

The Lions were excited in April when the Jaguars drafted Travon Walker No. 1 overall. That meant they got Aidan Hutchinson. The Michigan star was an absolute beast at the college level and the early returns from Detroit are good. The Lions believe they have a potential star pass rusher.

During the preseason, Hutchinson rushed both ends, but there is no easy side against this Eagles offensive line. Jordan Mailata on one side, Lane Johnson on the other.

Miles Sanders against the Lions defense

The game against Detroit last year was when the Eagles really turned to their heavy hitting offense and it worked. Sure, once they got big, they continued to run, but they started that game on the ground and the Lions had no answers. The Eagles racked up 236 yards on the ground in Detroit last season and did so without Myles Sanders.

Sanders is healthy for Week 1 this season after a hamstring injury limited him all summer. It’s a big contract year for Sanders, who is eager to prove he’s one of the best defenders in the league and just as eager to prove he can stay on the field after missing significant action the past few seasons.

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