O'HARA: Motivation for the Lions and rookie contributions at Philadelphia

Posted Dec 8, 2013

Mike O'Hara shares his final thoughts on today's Lions-Eagles matchup

PHILADELPHIA – Final thoughts – motivation for the Lions, rookie contributions, pressuring the quarterback -- awaiting kickoff of Sunday’s Lions-Eagles game at the Linc:

The Lions’ focus is squarely on the Eagles, and it should be with what is at stake. They led the NFC North with a 7-5 record going into today’s game, and the prospect of playing their next two at home against the Ravens and Giants had them in position to clinch the division title at home if they could win all three.

If there was any motivating force from looking backward, the Lions got a double dose for different reasons in the last two games. An upset loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago, and the blowout victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving Day provided different motivations.

Reggie Bush called the loss to the Bucs’ "a wakeup call." They answered the bell four days later against the Packers. It showed the Lions how they can perform when they’re on their game.

"That game against Green Bay, we learned a lot about ourselves," said guard Rob Sims.

They also learned something against the Bucs, who were 2-8 going into the game.

"I don’t think we took them lightly," Sims said. "Tampa came out there and played good ball. It just showed us how we’re always going to have to cross our T’s and dot our I’s."

Sims sees an advantage to playing three straight games against teams that are in the playoff race. Before Sunday, Philly was tied with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Both were 7-5.

The Ravens, at 6-6, were two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North but in contention for a wild-card berth.

And the Giants, at 5-7, were two games behind the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East but still in wild-card contention with the possibility of winning out.

"The teams we’ve got coming up, they’ve got something to prove," Sims said. "We’ve got some playing to do. It’s going to set us up, hopefully, for the playoffs."

Young blood: The rookie class has made good on the statement GM Martin Mayhew made at the Combine in February that the Lions’ rookies were going to have to play.

They’ve played and played well – and not just the draft picks.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah, the Lions’ top pick, had two sacks in each of the last two games. Devin Taylor, a fourth-round pick, also had two sacks in the last game against Green Bay.

Cornerback Darius Slay showed he was on an upward trend against Green Bay, but a freakish injury sustained in practice during the week put him out against the Eagles.

On offense, guard Larry Warford has started every game. He was a third-round pick. Punter Sam Martin has shown he has a strong leg and was well worth being drafted in the fifth round. Martin has had some inconsistency on kickoffs, but that does not appear to be a long-term problem.

The undrafted rookies have contributed in big ways. LaAdrian Waddle has been the starting right tackle since midseason. Tight end Joe Fauria has six TD catches.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said there is no timetable for when to play a rookie.

"It depends where your depth is," Linehan said during the week. "We made the decision that those guys are going to help us. They earned their time on the field.

"You always kind of think about when you want to play young players. When is it? It’s when they’re ready. We felt like all those guys were ready to play early in their career."

There is an obvious advantage in going forward when young players prove themselves as rookies.

"Now you’ve got good players playing for you," Linehan said. "You can kind of plan your future, knowing they’re going to play for you."

Lions blitz: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is known for not using the blitz a lot, but he was out of character against the Packers. According to STATS, the Lions were a league-low in rushing five or more defenders, doing so only 15.6 percent of the time.

Against the Packers, the Lions blitzed 28.6 percent of the defensive snaps, and rushed six or more seven percent of the plays.

What Cunningham has in store for the Eagles and second-year quarterback Nick Foles remains to be seen, but it’s something the Eagles have to be prepared to face.