The Detroit Lions begin their regular season action this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Detroit is looking to take gradual steps through their early rebuild of the Dan Campbell era after last season's 3-13-1 finish. The Eagles are on a different path coming off a playoff appearance in 2021-22 with a roster of young veterans aiming for another postseason run.
Even as the opening week of NFL regular season, there is plenty on the line for the Lions to prove in Week 1. Establishing momentum early can make a major difference, especially for a young team like Detroit.
The Lions will not have much room for error against the Eagles this weekend. Continuity and consistency is vital playing an experienced team at home.
Detroit will always need big performances from some important players on the roster. With a few matchups favoring the Eagles, these players could tip the scale of competition on Sunday.
Here are three players who need a standout game for a Lions victory this weekend:
1) DE Aidan Hutchinson
The rookie edge-rusher from the University of Michigan will have his hands full against Philadelphia. The Lions have lofty expectations for their No. 2 overall draft pick and their Week 1 matchup should be a strong test for him.
In limited preseason playing time, Hutchinson flashed his potential in numerous different ways. The Lions tested his versatility by lining him outside against offensive tackles and inside against the interior line protection. Even in the short time provided, he elevated hope and expectations of that star potential.
His first preseason highlight came in run support against the Atlanta Falcons. The next came against the Pittsburgh Steelers as an inside rusher where he registered a sack with defensive lineman Charles Harris.
Detroit will need that same aggression combined with discipline against the Eagles' offensive attack. Hutchinson showed some eagerness during preseason which he'll have to control against this speedy offense led by quarterback Jalen Hurtz and running back Miles Sanders. Containing the edge should be a top priority for Hutchinson along with getting to the quarterback.
Philadelphia offensive tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata are some of the NFL's best at their positions. Those one-on-one battles could help decide the outcome of the game. Hutchinson should also anticipate double teams if he gets off to a hot start defensively.
2. C Frank Ragnow
Detroit's biggest roster problem right now seems to be the health of their offensive line. They recently placed starting guard and former Eagle Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the injured reserve list for a minimum of four games for an undisclosed injury. This week didn't get easier as they announced center Frank Ragnow is battling a groin injury.
Head coach Dan Campbell advised that Ragnow is listed as questionable for Sunday after attempting walk through during Friday practice.
One of the strongest aspects of the Eagles' defense is their defensive line, specifically their interior rush. Veteran Fletcher Cox is still one of the best defensive tackles against the run and the pass. Philadelphia also traded up for first-round defensive tackle Jordan Davis for a major boost. Knowing the health concerns of the Lions' interior, expect the Eagles to bring heavy defensive pressure up the middle all game.
Maintaining a healthy offensive line was a big problem for the Lions last season. Detroit lost Ragnow early last year with a season-ending toe injury. They also had tackle Penei Sewell lining up in different positions while left tackle Taylor Decker was out of the lineup.
Continuity is a huge factor for the success of Detroit's offense, and it starts with the availability of their starting center. They could see another season of struggle if they're unable to build the consistency of their offensive line. Ragnow will have to be at his best if he ends up playing to help limit the Eagles' defensive line.
3. RB D'Andre Swift
The Lions suffered a 44-6 blowout loss at home to the Eagles last season. Detroit had trouble keeping quarterback Jared Goff clean as they surrendered 6 sacks in the beatdown.
One way to take advantage of the aggressive Eagles' defense is with creative packages with their running backs. The biggest X-factor that could reap the benefits of catching Philadelphia's defense off balance could be running back D'Andre Swift.
One of the highlights of Hard Knocks was the third-year back revealing his goal of gaining 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. If the Lions want that goal accomplished, they won't make it happen with traditional sets. Swift will have to be used in screen sets out the backfield and being split out as a wide receiver.
It would not surprise me if the Lions use lots of dual back sets with Swift lining up with veteran back Jamaal Williams. Williams excels in pass protection and could help pick up blitzes while Swift leaks out for flare routes from Goff. Look for Swift to have a big role Sunday to help elevate the offensive game plan.