Blizzard-like conditions dominated the afternoon as the Detroit Lions traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles as the unique weather conditions proved to be a greater equalizer than your typical football game in the snow. With whiteout conditions to start the game and players more than ankle-deep in the white stuff, both teams took some time to adjust to the conditions before the storm let up a bit in the second half.
The Lions controlled the scoring action until late in the third quarter when Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles connected with wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a 19-yard score. It then became a battle between Lions’ returner Jeremy Ross and Eagles’ running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy had two touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards, respectively, in the fourth quarter while Ross did his best to keep the Lions in the game as he returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown after already returning a punt 58 yards for a score in the third quarter. In the end, the Eagles proved too much for the Lions as they tacked on two more touchdowns late in the fourth to escape with the 34-20 victory.
What came into the week as an important battle for playoff positioning in the NFC turned into a battle against the elements that Philadelphia ultimately won, but don’t be surprised if these two teams meet again in January, perhaps in the climate-controlled atmosphere in Detroit.
Here’s a look at the performances that shaped Sunday’s game.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
Poor Blocking on the Edge
The Lions love to pinch the edge of the defense to allow their running backs to get outside, but Sunday was not a good showing by their offensive tackles in the running game. Things got off to a rocky start when starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle went down to injury after only seven snaps and backup Jason Fox struggled in his place on his way to a -4.9 grade as a run blocker. He was continually moved back at the point of attack as Eagles’ defensive end Cedric Thornton in particular gave him fits. It wasn’t much better on the other side as LT Riley Reiff graded at -4.4 in the run game as he had his own issues with DE Fletcher Cox. On a day where the passing game was largely rendered useless, the Lions were unable to get much going on the ground as Detroit running backs picked up only 81 yards on 27 carries (3.0 yards/carry) with 60 of those yards coming after contact. Many of the run game woes started with the tackles.
Tale of Two Halves
Perhaps no player handled the conditions as well as cornerback Rashean Mathis who got his hands on three passes in the first half while providing tight coverage on another. Seemingly every time Foles targeted WR Riley Cooper, Mathis was there, whether reaching in on the deep in-route at the 13:35 mark of the second quarter or knocking away the 4th-and-7 pass in the end zone with 56 seconds to go in the half. However, as the weather toned down in the second half, so did Mathis’ impact as he was the culprit on a number of big plays from the Eagles. Cooper got behind him on a post route with 4:47 to go in the third quarter and then he missed a tackle on McCoy’s first touchdown run at the 14:42 mark of the fourth. For the day, Mathis graded at +2.3 including +3.1 in coverage, but his being at the forefront of those big plays in the second half proved costly.
Run Defense Falls Apart
Much like Mathis’ second half was poor, so was the Detroit run defense as they surrendered 244 yards after the break. Obviously the playing conditions made it difficult to tackle, but they missed 13 tackles compared to the Eagles’ 11 and they were blocked too easily on a number of plays. FS Louis Delmas led with way with three misses, including a big whiff on McCoy’s first touchdown, and while he didn’t get charged with a missed tackle on McCoy’s second score, it was Delmas’ terrible angle in support that helped contribute to the big play. It wasn’t all on Delmas as the Lions’ defensive front had some rare issues in the running game. While DT Ndamukong Suh was a dominant presence grading at +2.7 against the run with a team-high seven stops, fellow DT Nick Fairley (-2.2 Run Def) was pushed out of the point of attack far too often, including getting too far upfield on McCoy’s second touchdown. While the snow was certainly a major factor, the Lions had an uncharacteristic bad day against the run.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
Finding Some Shady in the Snow
Judging by how often he was mentioned in the Lions’ section, it’s no surprise that McCoy graded at +2.1 overall including +3.0 on the ground. They blizzard-like conditions were not a good fit for his slashing style, but as the snow subsided, McCoy got used to the surface and proved to be Sunday’s biggest game-changer. He finished with 217 yards on 29 carries while forcing eight missed tackles. His two touchdown runs have already gotten heavy mention, but from McCoy’s point of view they were things of beauty and a great display of his skill set. On the 40-yarder, he patiently approached the line, hit the hole, juked Delmas, and then shrugged off Mathis on his way to the end zone. Just a few plays later, he took advantage of the well-blocked play and made one cut at the second level on his way to the untouched 57-yard touchdown. Once he found his footing, McCoy’s elusiveness proved too much for Detroit’s defense.
Defensive Front Controls the Action
Unlike the Lions, Philadelphia’s defensive line provided little room for opposing running backs led by Thornton and Cox. Thornton came into the game as the third-rated run defender among 3-4 defensive ends and he continued his strong play grading at +4.0. He kept Fox on skates throughout the afternoon, an apt term given the sloppy conditions, as he clogged the point of attack on a number of occasions. He also added a forced fumble early in the game. Cox controlled the action on the other side grading at +3.0 in the run game including two stops. He slipped a number of Reiff’s blocks as the Eagles bottled up Lions’ running backs for the most part. When you throw in a +3.6 run grade and a team-high four stops from outside linebacker Connor Barwin, as well as identical +2.0 run grades from backup defensive ends Vinny Curry and Clifton Geathers, the Eagles had full control of the edge on Sunday.
Right Side of Line Struggles
The Eagles’ offensive line did their best work on the left side while right guard Todd Herremans (-3.3 Run Block) and RT Lane Johnson (-1.3 Run Block) proved to be the weakest links. Herremans did have a stretch of positive play against Suh early in the fourth quarter, but he was moved about for much of the afternoon. His missed blocks allowed defenders to get in on stops on six different occasions. Johnson had a bit of a mixed afternoon as well, showing nice athleticism to get out on a screen block early in the game. He had middling success at the second level as he was able to climb up to seal LB Stephen Tulloch multiple times, but he was also late on other occasions. It was Johnson’s interactions with Suh that did him in, particularly the 3:13 mark of the second quarter and the 7:24 mark of the third.
– On deep passes, Foles completed 2-of-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown while Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford completed 1-of-4 for 33 yards.
– The poor weather conditions made it difficult for pass rushers as the Lions picked up only six pressures as a team while the Eagles had only four.
– Fairley picked up three penalties on the day as he continues to lead all defensive tackles with 10. His roughing the passer penalty was very questionable, however.
PFF Game Ball
LeSean McCoy’s game-breaking ability proved the difference as he graded at +2.1 overall with 217 yards on the ground.
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