Eagle Eye: Facing the Lions' wide-nine defense
The first time Brandon Graham played the Lions, he registered his first career sack -- but he also injured his back. (USA Today Images)
He’s from Detroit. Grew up there. Went to high school there. Stayed in the state to go to college at the University of Michigan. It’s home for Brandon Graham. He talks about it the way most people do when discussing where they’re from – fondly, and with a smile.
“I’m excited,” Graham said about the Eagles hosting the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. “I get to play against my hometown team. I know everyone back home is going to be watching. I’ll try to go out there and have fun like I always do, but, yeah, it’s a big game for me. They’re all big, but this one is because they’re a playoff contender and we are and that’s my hometown team.
“It gets me extra motivated. Even though I’m already motivated, it’s just more fun. I can’t even explain it. It’s playing in front of my home crowd. It’s just fun.”
Graham, who grew up as a Lions fan, watched a lot of them back in the day. Barry Sanders was a favorite, of course. So was wide receiver Herman Moore.
“I used to see [Moore] on TV a lot,” Graham said. “Him. Johnnie Morton. A whole bunch of guys on offense that I used to like.
“They had some tough years – couldn’t finish games and things like that. But it was exciting because it was still a game. Until the fourth quarter.”
The first time Graham played against the Lions, it was fun for a while – then not so enjoyable. It was the second game of his rookie career. That was four seasons ago. Two things happened that day: Graham got his first career sack and Graham got hurt. One of those developments was positive, and one might have arrested his growth as a professional defensive lineman.
“I remember I got hurt that game,” Graham said. “I hurt my back. But I got a sack that game, and it was fun to be in front of my hometown crowd. I got to see some people after the game. It was definitely a fun experience. We won the game, and it was a good one that day.”
Graham said he hopes for the same outcome this weekend, minus the back injury. After being shifted to linebacker this season, Graham’s playing time has been spotty. He’s been on the field for 236 plays, which works out to 25 percent of the defensive snaps. Four other linebackers -- DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole – have all gotten at least 700 snaps and been on the field for at least 75 percent of the defensive plays.
Graham has played better of late. He had three tackles Sunday against Arizona. He also added two sacks, which was double his season total to that point. He said he’d like to continue playing that way this weekend – to help his team, but also because 20 of his friends and family are making the drive from Detroit for the game. It should take them about nine hours if they drive the speed limit. It took Graham eight hours when he recently made the trip home.
“It’s not that bad a drive,” Graham said. “I took it for the bye week. It’s like eight hours. It was cool, I had my lady with me.”