Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Eagles in Philadelphia

ALLEN PARK — After two weeks, the Lions remain undefeated even though that first-week tie still seems kind of ugly.

Onward.

The Lions are 5-point underdogs on the road at Philadelphia at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he doesn’t think at all about being 1-0-1.

“It’s just a huge challenge for us this week. Going to Philadelphia is a tough place to play. They have a bunch of good players and have been a really good team for a long time, so it’s just a new challenge for us, something we have to attack on its own,’’ Stafford said.

Stafford and his teammates agree that Sunday’s comeback win against the Chargers doesn’t mean much this week.

I think just because you did it last week doesn’t mean you’re going to do it again the next week, but also if you didn’t do it the week before, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it the next week,’’ Stafford said. “No, we take every challenge head-on as a new one.”

Five things to know about the Lions at the Eagles (1-1):

1. In the win over the Chargers, Stafford was let loose. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called an aggressive game even after Stafford had thrown two interceptions. Afterward Stafford was smiling and it wasn’t just because of the win. Bevell is known for depending on the run game and certainly a balance (not necessarily 50-50) is key to an offense putting up points in the NFL, but Stafford has to be allowed to throw the bombs, to throw on an important third down. Maybe this is the change the Lions have needed over the past few years. Now we’ll see if it continues.

2. Stafford must be kept clean again. It’s rare when he goes through a game without being sacked like he did on Sunday. In the last five seasons he’s been sacked 213 times with only 7 games with no sacks. “Keeping the quarterback safe and protected is No. 1. You know obviously you’ve seen us do different things with Matthew (and the first thing is always trying to take care of him and how we keep him upright, even if he gets an opportunity to run,’’ Bevell said. “That’s always in the forefront of our minds because those guys are really hard to find, and we have a good one and we want to protect that guy.”

3. After missing left tackle Taylor Decker for one game and linebacker Jarrad Davis for two, it looks like the Lions will be mostly healthy in Philadelphia. Both practiced all week and are officially listed as questionable. Tyrell Crosby did a commendable job filling in for Decker on Sunday, but having a healthy Decker return would be a positive facing Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line. “They have a solid front with Fletcher and Brandon Graham on the same side. They can move those guys around with (Derek) Barnett. It’s an active front,’’ Bevell said. “They do a great job of getting penetration and really trying to work up the field and wreak havoc that way. Fletcher has been a good player for a long time and something that we’ll have to make sure that we have answers for. It’s a good combination of him and Brandon Graham working on the side together.”

4. Matt Patricia did not confirm that Jarrad Davis will play on Sunday, but seemed optimistic before Friday’s practice. Davis’ presence would be huge against the EAgles offense led by Carson Wentz and fueled by TE Zach Ertz. “I think J.D., just in general, obviously this is a kid that loves the game,’’ Patricia said. “He just loves to come in and prepare every week and he loves to learn and he’s just every single day – that intensity to get better, as a coach, is something you love to see. I think he obviously provides a layer of leadership, I’ll say comfort or calmness, to the middle of the defense when he’s out there because of his knowledge and his ability to control the middle part of what we do in the defensive scheme. I think those other guys have done a great job and really Devon Kennard I think has stepped in great as far as the communication on the field. I think he’s done a phenomenal job of that too.’’

5. Special teams have not gotten off to a good start this season. Would expect that Matt Prater’s missed 40-yard field goal and missed extra point are just anomalies. Patricia said punt returner Jamal Agnew was benched for that game after a fumble, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back as the return guy. Patricia does have options in Danny Amendola and Ty Johnson. Special teams also had too many penalties which is something that should be easy to clean up.

PREDICTION: Eagles 27, Lions 24. (Philadelphia is banged up while Detroit is mostly healthy. Still, it’s a tough place to play and pulling out a win would be a tough task.)

Detroit Lions Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis, Da’Shawn Hand out vs. Chargers

DETROIT — Starting left tackle Taylor Decker and linebacker Jarrad Davis are out in the Detroit Lions home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers today at Ford Field.

Decker, who injured his back in the tie at Arizona last Sunday, has practiced on a limited basis all week so this is no surprise. He was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Decker started in all 16 games in 2018.

Tyrell Crosby, who started one game at right tackle last season, could get the start in Decker’s place.

Davis (ankle), who missed the opener last week, was also limited in practice all week and was listed as questionable. Last week rookie Jahlani Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin stepped in with Devon Kennard wearing the helmet with the microphone.

Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (elbow), who also sat out last week, is once again sidelined. He too had limited practice this week and was listed as questionable.

The Lions have lost three of their last five home openers including last year when the N.Y. Jets clobbered them 48-17 in the regular season opener at Ford Field.

Other inactives for the Lions: QB David Blough, WR Travis Fulgham, CB Amani Oruwariye and G Beau Benzschawel.

Chargers inactives: Easton Stick, Michael Badgley, Roderic Teamer, Michael Davis, Jatavis Brown, Hunter Henry and Cortez Broughton.

Detroit Lions coordinator Paul Pasqualoni: Defense more comfortable, but Cardinals will provide challenges

ALLEN PARK — What a difference a year can make. When the Lions open the season at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Detroit’s defense has a built-in advantage due to experience.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni enters his second year with the group that has added a few new pieces since last season.

“I think we’re much more comfortable, all of the players who’ve returned, fortunately we’ve got quite a few guys who returned. I think we’re much more familiar with the system is, fitting pieces, trying to get the right guys on the bus and getting them in the right seat, so to speak,’’ Pasqualoni said on Monday. “I think that’s a process, that’s a work that you keep trying to get better at.’’

He does admit that the defense has a disadvantage because so many players have been injured.

“From a defensive standpoint we need to play together, we’ve had so many injuries and nicks and bumps we haven’t really had an opportunity to put the whole unit together and get them out there for an extended period of time,’’ Pasqualoni said. “That will be a work in progress this week and the first weeks of the season.’’

Early in the season, it’s difficult to know what to expect from any NFL team because they just don’t show much in preseason games. That will be amplified against the Cardinals who have a new coach in Kliff Kingsbury, a first-time NFL head coach, and in rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

Pasqualoni expects a wide-open, spread offense, run mostly out of the shotgun, with 3-5 receivers on the field each snap. Oh, and no-huddle too. 

“It stretches you this way (holds his arms out wide) horizontally, and they stretch you vertically based on the speed of what they have in Kyler Murray’s ability to throw the ball, he can throw the ball deep,’’ Pasqualoni said.

Plus they have Arizona running back David Johnson to keep under control.

“You put too many resources into the pass and the run hurts you, you put too many resources into the run and the pass hurts you,” Pasqualoni said. “That’s the whole idea of this, this offense is really an explosive deal when you’ve got real speed at the wide receiver position, they’ve got a Hall of Fame receiver in Larry Fitzgerald who is going to really present issues in this offense too. It presents a lot of problems.”

The Lions’ defense took a while to get going last season. They lost 48-17 in their opener at home to the New York Jets.

But once they got going and added James “Snacks” Harrison on the defensive line, they improved steadily.

Now they’ve added veterans Mike Daniels and Tre Flowers to the defensive line along with a few other key pieces.

If middle linebacker Jarrad Davis doesn’t play (he’s not expected to be ready), rookie Jahlani Tavai could be running the defense. Pasqualoni wouldn’t say much about Tavai because he doesn’t want to put more pressure on him.  But if the second-round pick starts, that says the coaching staff believes in him.

The defense is a work in progress. It’s flexibility will definitely be tested in the opening week.