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NFL Preview - Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said jokingly Nick Foles will be his starting quarterback for the "next 1,000 years."
That would equate to some nifty passing numbers, but in reality Foles is doing a nice job under center and looks to keep the Eagles rolling when the high- scoring Detroit Lions visit Lincoln Financial Field Sunday afternoon.
Foles has led the Eagles to four straight wins and a 7-5 mark, which is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Dallas holds the tie breaker should the two teams win out. Foles has completed 72 of his 106 attempts for 1,169 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions during the past four games and sports a 144.2 passer rating in that span.
The lanky Foles and second-year OB out of the University of Arizona has thrown 233 passes without an interception and needs one more TD pass to tie Peyton Manning (20) for the most touchdowns to start a season without throwing an interception. Manning set the NFL record earlier this season with Denver. Foles has 19 touchdown passes and 1,791 yards for an NFL-best 125.2 rating.
"I'm a big supporter of him, I think he does a fantastic job, but we also know that injuries occur in this game and that's why I always qualify what I say," Kelly stated in response to if Foles is a franchise quarterback. "I love the kid and I think he's playing outstanding."
Foles has taken over for Michael Vick and was named the starter for the rest of the season before last Sunday's 24-21 win over Arizona in which the 6- foot-6 signal caller threw for 237 yards on 21-of-34 passing with three touchdowns. He was sacked a season-high five times and has been sacked at least three times in four of the previous five contests.
The Eagles made use of their tight ends in the close win, as rookie Zach Ertz led the way with 68 yards and two scores on five receptions. Tight end Brent Celek caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles, whose offense needs 395 yards versus Detroit to set the franchise record for the most total yards (5,237 in 2010) through the first 13 games of the season.
Foles is a big part of Philadelphia's deluge of yards so far.
"I think it's a reflection of our team and what our guys are doing. I can't go out there and do everything; there are a lot of guys that are helping me," Foles said. "The line is giving me time to throw the ball, the running backs are doing great in protection and out on their routes, receivers are running crisp routes and using their bodies to make plays."
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson went over the 1,000-yard mark with 36 yards on three catches versus the Cardinals, while running back LeSean McCoy added to his 1,000-yard rushing campaign with 79 yards on 19 carries. McCoy is second in the NFL in rushing with 1,088 yards and first in yards from scrimmage with 1,523.
The Eagles are the only team in the NFL with a 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000- yard rusher, and sit second in rushing yards per game (146.8) and third in total yards (403.6). They are eighth in scoring (25.0) and ninth in passing yards per game (256.8).
Philadelphia will close out a stretch of three straight games at home versus the Lions, who ended a two-game slide and won for the third time in five tries with a 40-10 demolition of the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving.
Detroit's defense, which doesn't receive much credit, held the Packers to 126 total yards and forced three turnovers. Packers quarterback Matt Flynn was harassed all afternoon and sacked seven times, including twice by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Ansah leads the Lions with seven sacks and has posted two in each of the past two weeks.
"I don't think it's anything specific," Ansah said of his recent sack surge. "I just try to be better every single day. I just try to make plays.
"I feel more comfortable every single week. I came in as a rookie and I'm trying my best not to play like a rookie."
Ansah benefits from playing on a line with stud defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, who recorded a sack last Thursday and is second on the team with 5 1/2, and Nick Fairley. Fairley has 3 1/2 sacks this season. Suh and Fairley garner much attention from opposing offensive lines and running backs, and will pose as a threat to both McCoy and Foles. Foles may have faced one of the toughest defenses so far versus Arizona, but now goes up against a mean Lions group.
The Lions are third against the run, allowing just 82.7 yards per game.
"First and foremost, they've got really good players," Kelly said. "Those two guys inside are outstanding, All-Pro caliber players. I don't think the defensive ends get enough credit, just because they've got the two really big, high-profile guys inside. They're well-coached and they are physical. That's the one thing that kind of jumps out on tape is how physical that defensive front is."
Willie Young and Devin Taylor are the other dependable ends for the Lions, whose defensive line coach Jim Washburn held the same position with the Eagles last season. Washburn implements the wide-nine defensive front.
Not only should the Lions worry about stopping Philly's aerial assault because they're 26th in passing yards allowed (262.2) and 27th in total yards allowed (384.2), but keeping McCoy grounded is key. When McCoy gets going it makes the pass offense more potent.
"They stretch the whole field horizontally with their run game," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "(McCoy) can run inside and he can run outside. He also can run with power and he can break tackles.
"As much has been made of Foles and 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions, that run game is really what keeps them going and allows them to do some of the things they do and no huddle puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Linebacker DeAndre Levy leads the team and the NFL with a career-high six interceptions. Levy had one last week versus Green Bay and hopes to get one on Foles, something no team has been able to do this season.
"I haven't really thought about it yet," Levy said of his INT total. "It's a critical stretch for us, hopefully it won't be in vain, and we can finish this thing out the right way and get to the playoffs."
The Lions have a one game lead on Chicago for first in the NFC North and defeated the Eagles, 26-23, in overtime last Oct. 14 at the Linc. Jason Hanson booted a game-winning 45-yard field goal for Detroit, which had lost the previous six meetings in this series, including the playoffs.
Philadelphia leads the all-time series with Detroit, 15-13-2.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Eagles are the worst in passing yards allowed (296.8) and 31st in total yards given up (412.2). Detroit is quite aware of that and will try to exploit Philadelphia's weaknesses with a dynamic offense of its own.
Lions running back Reggie Bush has found his niche with the Lions and can be a nightmare to any defense, especially the linebackers. Bush, who has recorded a team-leading 854 rushing yards and is second on the Lions with 45 catches, has complete confidence in the Lions' high-energy offense.
"I think that we feel like we can dominate just about any defense out there when we are playing well and clicking on all four cylinders," Bush told the Detroit Free Press. "When we are playing well as an offense, we feel like we can dominate any situation and any team."
Philadelphia has the luxury of trying to contain Lions All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson and he has 962 receiving yards in the last six games. It's no surprise Johnson has posted those remarkable numbers because he's arguably the best receiver and most athletic player in the league. It could be a long day for Eagles cornerbacks Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin.
Eagles safety Nate Allen, who had an interception versus Arizona, is the last line of defense. Rookie safety Earl Wolff is trying to make a return Sunday from a knee issue that has kept him off the field the last two weeks. It may not be the right time to come back against Detroit's prolific offense, but Wolff appears ready for the challenge and is putting in extra rehab.
"Definitely," Wolff said about feeling better. "As a matter of fact, it's kind of like a 180 compared to how it was last Monday. Last Monday, I was still limping and couldn't really move it, but now I'm getting a full range of motion now."
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is on pace to pass for more than 5,000 yards and threw for 330 yards and three scores on Thanksgiving. He did lose a fumble and was intercepted twice, but Stafford got the job done in the end.
"It's great. It's a step in the right direction for us," Stafford said after the win. "We have to continue on this path. I'm just proud of our team and the way we played for four quarters and didn't let anything derail us. We have to keep doing that."
Stafford has 627 passing yards and six touchdowns in the last two games, but six INTs in that time. He has 10 picks in the last five weeks. Regardless of how often Stafford turns the ball over, it helps having a player like Johnson to throw to.
"I just throw it to Calvin every time, you guys know that," Stafford at his locker this week. "Slant, jump ball, just throw Calvin the jump ball."
Johnson is 40 yards shy of passing Herman Moore (9,174 yards) for most receiving yards in Lions history. Megatron could get that on one play.
Yes, the Eagles have another test this week with Detroit in town, but their defense has improved vastly over the weeks. The Eagles had just eight interceptions a season ago and now have 15 with four games remaining. They have 13 interceptions since Week 5, tying Carolina for the NFL lead over that stretch. Philadelphia has also held its opponents to 21 points or less in each of the past eight games. Detroit is averaging 27.2 ppg.
In milestone news, Eagles OLB Trent Cole (76) needs one more sack to move out of a tie with Clyde Simmons and into sole possession of second place on the franchise's all-time list.
The storyline of Sunday's game may not be about offense; it could certainly be about both defenses playing at a high level. Philadelphia's offensive line may be opening holes large enough for McCoy to squirt through, but Foles is getting sacked at a rapid rate and doesn't have the bulk of Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger.
Kelly talked about Detroit's interior defensive linemen and will probably keep talking about Suh and Fairley in his postgame press conference. The Foles train will come to a sudden halt Sunday, as the Eagles will fail to keep up with the Stafford-to-Johnson polar express.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 29, Eagles 23
12/05 15:07:19 ET