Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Lions with Justin Rogers of MLive.com

Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Lions with Justin Rogers of MLive.com

Each week during the 2012 season, we're hitting up some of the most
knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the Eagles' opponent that particular Sunday. Today we are pleased to have Justin Rogers, Lions beat reporter for MLive.com, which serves the entire state of Michigan.

Kulp: There probably aren't many prognosticators who picked the Lions to be 1-3 at this point in the season -- and it very easily could have been 0-4 -- but that's where they are after three consecutive losses against San Francisco, Tennessee, and Minnesota. What would you say has been the biggest reason behind their slow start?

Justin Rogers: It's easy to point to special teams as the biggest reason for the Lions' slow start. There have been 10 touchdown returns on kickoffs and punts around the league and Detroit is responsible for four. You eliminate those and the Lions could easily be 3-1 right now. But even if you subtract the special teams blunders from the equation, something hasn't been quite right. To me, the area that is the biggest concern is the slow starts on offense.  Detroit has put together some long drives in the first halves of their four games, but are consistently stalling out before reaching the end zone. The Lions have just one first half touchdown as opposed to nine field goal attempts and four interceptions. They have been trailing at the half of each of those contests.

Clearly Calvin Johnson has become the most dominant wide receiver in the league. He's currently averaging 105 yards per game for the second year in a row, and has hauled in 12 or more touchdown catches three of the past four seasons. Having watched him play on a weekly basis, where would you rank Calvin Johnson among the most dominant players at any position in the NFL?

It's a difficult question to answer, but let's put it this way, teams design entire game plans around stopping Johnson. Look back at the film from any Lions' game this season and you'll see consistent two high safety looks, combined often with man-press coverage and linebacker help underneath.  He never sees fewer than two defenders, and often sees some combination of three, yet he still continues to produce. That is the definition of dominance.  Where he ranks compared to a Patrick Willis, J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers or Arian Foster, it's tough to say, but I'm comfortable saying Johnson is in the top 10.

After throwing 41 touchdowns a season ago, Matthew Stafford has just three so far in 2011 -- none to Calvin Johnson. You wrote last week that defenses have only used man coverage on five of Detroit's 296 snaps, employing a bend-don't-break strategy that forces Stafford to nickel and dime his way down the field. Given the limitations of their running game and other options at receiver, is their offense equipped for those long drives?

It's equipped to do it, and they have done it, but they're not executing the full length of the field. It's not one person's fault. On one drive it will be a missed block, on another a bad throw, another a receiver will put a ball on the ground.  The Lions have plenty of offensive weapons, but they are falling victim to the bend-don't-break style because of mental and physical mistakes.  The one area where the Lions need to be better is running the ball against six-man boxes.  If they can't keep the opposition honest by moving the ball against minimum defenders up front, they'll never be able to play to their strengths in the passing game, particularly looking for Johnson deep after a safety is forced to commit to helping stop the run.

A couple weeks back, your colleague Anwar Richardson noted that the Lions' secondary charted as one of the league's best despite rampant injuries. Following an awful performance against Tennessee in Week 3 (378 yards, two TD over 60 yards), they rebounded the next week at Minnesota (111 yards, zero TD), and Detroit still ranks 10th at 213 YPG. How have they managed, and what is the state of the secondary after their bye?

They've managed, but the stats are deceptive. The return of cornerback Chris Houston has been a big boost.  He's played very well in two games, making several key tackles and breaking up a handful of passes. On the other side, rookie Bill Bentley is being attacked by opposing quarterbacks and he's been inconsistent, particularly locating the football. He drew two pass interference calls over 20 yards in the loss to the Vikings. 

The safeties have been the biggest concern. Veteran Erik Coleman has been decent, but the absence of Louis Delmas has been devastating. He's finally practicing after his knee surgery and could be back this week after missing the first four games, the entire preseason and most of training camp, so it's unknown what kind of shape he'll be in. 

One thing is for certain, even though the group hasn't given up big yardage, opposing quarterbacks have been very efficient. A lot of that is quick, short passes, but it's been effective, so there's no reason to stop.  This group also doesn't have an interception. They're only one of two teams with that distinction.

There has been a lot of talk in Philadelphia about the wide 9 defensive front ever since Jim Washburn brought the look here last season. It's been very successful in terms of rushing the passer, producing 46 sacks from linemen alone in 2011, but often criticized for exposing linebackers, particularly in the running game. How has the wide 9 been received in Detroit?

At first, everyone was excited, because the Lions went from a team with only a handful of sacks to becoming one of the top 10 teams in the league in that department, but the criticisms are similar to those you have mentioned.  The aggressiveness of the ends, combined with the defensive tackles shooting single gaps up the middle, has allowed opposing offensive lines to control the direction of the players, opening significant running lanes. 

Last year the Lions were one of the worst teams in the league against the run, but have done a decent job this year, shutting down Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson. Neither Adrian Peterson or Frank Gore did a tremendous amount of damage, but that had more to do with a limited amount of carries as opposed to limited success.

The Lions are content as long as they don't allow any explosive runs, which they define as more than 20 yards. So far, they've done well in that department, but LeSean McCoy is on a different level and he could have a big day if the Lions' lineman and linebackers aren't sound with their assignments.

Many thanks to Justin Rogers for participating. Follow him on Twitter, and for the latest news on the Lions ahead of Sunday's game, check out MLive.com.

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Nelson Cruz hit his ninth career grand slam and added a three-run shot, and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched six innings to win his fifth straight start in Seattle's victory over Toronto.

Cruz hit his slam off R.A. Dickey (7-11) in the third, then added a three-run drive off Drew Storen in the eighth for his 20th career multi-homer game. He has 25 home runs this season.

It was the 13th time in team history a Mariners player has recorded seven RBIs. The team record is eight by Mike Blowers, Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer and Nori Aoki had two RBIs and scored twice as the Mariners used a season-high 19 hits to win their third straight. Iwakuma (11-6) allowed two runs and four hits.

Wade LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first save (see full recap).

Stanton leads Marlins past Mets
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton homered and had his first four-hit game since 2012, driving in three runs to give Jose Fernandez all the support he needed, and Miami beat New York.

Miami rocked Jacob deGrom (6-5), who allowed 10 hits and five runs, both season highs, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since August.

Fernandez (12-4) gave up two runs in seven innings to match his career high for victories, achieved in his 2013 rookie season. He also had two hits, hiking his average to .265, and drove in the first run.

Home Run Derby winner Stanton put Miami ahead to stay in the third inning when he hit a majestic two-run homer off the left-field scoreboard above the 401-foot sign. He added an RBI single in the fourth, and singled in the first and sixth, hiking his average to .241 after a prolonged slump (see full recap).  

Dodgers snap Cardinals' 5-game win streak
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez hit his eighth homer, red-hot Justin Turner got two more RBIs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat St. Louis 7-2 on Saturday night to end the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.

Turner's two-run double capped a four-run third. He has 14 RBIs since the All-Star break.

Gonzalez's 429-foot solo blast to center sparked a three-run sixth.

Kenta Maeda (9-7) rebounded from a poor outing against Arizona on July 17, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the Cardinals' first 15 batters was able to hit the ball out of the infield against the Japanese right-hander.

Andrew Toles went 3 for 4 and scored once for the Dodgers. He has reached safely in nine of 10 games since being called up from the minors.

Mike Leake (7-8) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in six innings.

Matt Adams homered for the second consecutive game. His blast to left in the fourth extended the Cardinals' streak of home runs to 14 straight games.

Aledmys Diaz reached safely for the 26th straight game with a first-inning single. Diaz's streak is the second-longest by a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols had streaks of 30 and 48 games in 2001 (see full recap).

Drew's walk-off triple lifts Nats past Padres
WASHINGTON -- Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew hit a game-ending RBI triple in the ninth inning to lift Washington past San Diego,

Anthony Rendon opened the bottom off the ninth with a single off reliever Kevin Quackenbush (6-4). Drew entered with one out and drove a pitch off the center-field scoreboard, and Rendon raced around the bases for the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon (2-2) allowed a leadoff double in the ninth before retiring three straight batters. San Diego left runners in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Washington starter Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings (see full recap).

Giants top Yanks in extras to snap losing skid
NEW YORK -- Mac Williamson homered in the fifth inning and hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th, lifting San Francisco past New York for the Giants' first victory since the All-Star break.

NL West-leading San Francisco had lost a season-high six straight games and had held just one lead since the break -- when Buster Posey hit a go-ahead home run leading off the 10th inning at San Diego on July 16 only to have the Padres rally for a pair of runs in the bottom half against Santiago Casilla.

Williamson, whose fourth-inning error allowed the Yankees' run, began the comeback when he connected off Ivan Nova leading off the fifth.

Trevor Brown hit an opposite-field double to right off Anthony Swarzak (1-1) leading off the 12th, and Williamson singled up the middle with one out, just past the glove of diving shortstop Didi Gregorius. San Francisco was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 7 for 64 (.111) since the All-Star break, before Williamson's single.

Cheered on by hundreds of orange-clad fans in the Giants' old hometown, San Francisco escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when Casilla (2-3) retired Brian McCann on a shallow flyout and Starlin Castro on a foulout. Hunter Strickland pitched a perfect 12th for his second save (see full recap).

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

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Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).