The Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles face off at Ford Field today in the season opener for both clubs. The Eagles came into Ford Field and beat the Lions handily, 44-6, last season. Detroit will no-doubt be looking for some payback. The Lions think they're a much better team in the second season under general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell. Can Detroit kick their season off on a positive note in a big intraconference matchup between NFC hopefuls?
Here are five things I'll be on the lookout for in the Lions' regular season home opener today:
1. RAGNOW STATUS
Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow has been dealing with a groin injury that forced him to miss practice Thursday, but the good news out of Allen Park Friday was that Ragnow was back on the field for the open portion of practice. The team has officially listed Ragnow as questionable to play, so we'll know 90 minutes before kickoff if he's in or out. Speaking to reporters after practice Friday, Ragnow was cautiously optimistic he'd be ready to go by Sunday.
The Eagles have one of the better defensive fronts in football, so the Lions will miss Ragnow if he's inactive, especially with starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai already ruled out of at least the first four games with a back injury.
The Lions do have a very capable backup in Evan Brown, who started 12 games for the injured Ragnow last season. Brown played pretty well in that role a season ago. Can he keep Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis and the rest of the talented interior Eagles defensive front out of the backfield? And if Ragnow does play, how effective can he be playing with a groin injury?
2. UNLEASH HUTCH
Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick by the Lions in this year's NFL Draft, said Thursday he's ready to unleash the beast. Hutchinson has been disruptive all through training camp. He's got a great matchup Week 1 against Eagles All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson and the rest of a very talented Philadelphia offensive line.
The Lions recorded the third fewest sacks in the NFL last season and didn't get enough consistent disruption on opposing quarterbacks. Hutchinson was brought in to do just that, and the Lions think he'll help them be a better run defending team as well.
3. PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
It was really a tale of two seasons for Lions veteran quarterback Jared Goff last year. He got off to a slow start the first half of the year after coming over in a trade with the Rams, but during the second half of last season, after Campbell took over play calling and Ben Johnson was elevated to pass-game coordinator, Goff settled in nicely and played some pretty good ball down the stretch. His passer rating of over 101.8 in his last six starts was the sixth best in the NFL.
Johnson is now the offensive coordinator and has built his scheme around what Goff does best. Goff has ownership of this offense, and that's been evident by the confidence he's exuded all through camp. He's looked sharp. The Lions will need him to pick up right where he left off to record the upset today.
4. RUN STOPPERS
Philadelphia came into Detroit last season and recorded 236 rushing yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry with four rushing touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn famously buried the game tape.
Glenn thinks the Lions are better equipped to stop the run this season with some of the scheme and technique changes they've made, along with adding personnel like Hutchinson, linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and safety DeShon Elliott, and getting cornerback Jeff Okudah back from injury.
The Eagles were the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL last season. We'll know right away Week 1 if Glenn and the Lions pushed the right buttons this offseason to improve their run defense.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, September 9, 2022.
5. KEY RETURN
It's been a rough first two seasons in the NFL for Okudah, who's played in just 10 games the last two years due to injury. He missed nearly all of the 2021 season after suffering an Achilles injury Week 1.
Okudah said he's stronger and faster than he was pre-Achilles injury, and he's looked the part in camp, beating out Will Harris for the starting outside cornerback spot opposite Amani Oruwariye.
Okudah and Oruwariye have a good test today against the talented Eagles receiving duo of DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, but Okudah is determined to show why he was the No. 3 overall pick in 2020.