DETROIT (AP) — A year ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were a playoff team that routed the dismal Detroit Lions 44-6.
That result aside, both teams are fully aware of the areas they need to improve on as the season opener approaches.
The Eagles were largely one-dimensional on their march to the playoffs last year, and the Detroit game was a case in point. Jalen Hurts threw for 103 yards as Philadelphia did most of its damage on the ground. The Eagles finished with 236 rushing yards, eight more than the Lions’ offense generated in total.
Hurts was more impressive as a rusher than a passer last season — finishing with 784 rushing yards and 10 scoring — and while the Eagles led the NFL in rushing, they didn’t have a receiver who did. exceeded 1,000 yards.
Enter AJ Brown, who passed 1,000 yards in 2019 and 2020, and was close to doing so again last year before being limited to 13 games. In three seasons with the Titans, he averaged 61.7 catches, 998.3 yards and 8.0 touchdowns — exactly the kind of weapon Hurts needs.
He has a sign in his locker that says “Always open.”
“Even when I’m covered, I’m open,” Brown said. “It’s my state of mind. Luckily Jalen knows my state of mind. I’m excited, he’s excited.
He wasn’t cheap — the Eagles traded the No. 18 pick and a third-round pick to Tennessee for him, then signed him to a four-year deal worth at least $57 million. dollars – and he knows he has to produce.
“I have a job, I have a responsibility, I have to go out there and play games and do what I do,” he said.
The Lions, who are 3-13-1 in their first season under coach Dan Campbell, are also counting on their offense to become more dynamic. They also acquired a large starter, signing DJ Chark to a one-year, $10 million deal.
The team believes it has one of the best offensive lines in football protecting quarterback Jared Goff – left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and tackle right Penai Sewell.
However, the group has never played together in an NFL game due to injuries, and that won’t change on Sunday. Vaitai started the season on injured reserve with a back injury, Ragnow missed Thursday’s practice with a groin injury, and Vaitai’s backup Tommy Kraemer also sat out with a back problem.
Campbell said his offensive line will be ready no matter who comes onto the court.
“The O line, as long as you have a group of guys that know how to work together and they’re tough and smart, you can do great things,” Campbell said. “We still have a lot up there, so it will be fine.”
CHANGE OF SIDE
Brown isn’t the only Eagle with something to prove on Sunday. Cornerback Darius Slay spent his first seven seasons anchoring Detroit’s secondary, appearing in three Pro Bowls and earning All-Pro honors in 2017.
In 2020, however, the Lions took CB Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) with the third overall pick and Slay ended up in Philadelphia. In two years, Okudah has only played 10 games, intercepted one pass and allowed a 77.2% success rate.
During that time, Slay played 31 games for the Eagles and gave up a 68.0 percent passing rate for fewer yards than Okudah. He also intercepted four passes, returning one for a touchdown, and returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
One of Slay’s scores came on a 33-yard fumble return against the Lions last season, giving the Eagles two touchdowns in 11 seconds and a 38-0 lead.
“He’s always in the right place, in the right phase and close to the ball,” Goff said. “He’s a hell of a player and I have a lot of respect for him.”
POSSIBLE JERSEY EXCHANGE?
Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 pick in the April draft, said he had already been offered a post-match jersey swap with longtime Eagles DE Brandon Graham. Both players grew up in the Detroit metro area and played in Michigan before becoming first-round picks.
Hutchinson said he was flattered by the offer, but might want to keep his jersey from his first NFL game.