By Michael Downes
Coming off a dominant win against the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions turn their attention to the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons. FOX will be airing the game at 1 p.m. EST.
This is the first real test for the Lions. Last week, the Falcons annihilated the Green Bay Packers 34-23. The Falcons are leaps and bounds better than the Arizona Cardinals and the Giants. To pull this off, the Lions need to play a near-perfect game.
The core of the Falcons has heaps of star power. From quarterback Matt Ryan, to the two headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield and the slew of wide receivers head-manned by Julio Jones.
The Falcons sputtered out of the gate against the Chicago Bears Week 1, but seemed to be firing on all cylinders last week. Ryan is averaging nearly 290 yards a game with a 112.1 passer rating. He also has two touchdowns and no picks.
The Lions’ secondary will have their hands full against the Falcons receiving corps. Jones is going to get the most attention and, if the Lions are smart, they’ll put Darius Slay on him all game and have safety help over top. But no matter what the Lions choose to do, there is nobody in the NFL that can efficiently cover Jones.
Receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel offer up a whole different kind of challenge. Sanu takes advantage of soft coverage, since the main focus is on Jones. He runs great routes and his hands are underrated. Gabriel is the speedster that can blow the top off of things at any moment.
Jarrad Davis, rookie middle linebacker, is out for the Lions with a concussion. The rush defense is going to struggle containing Atlanta’s backs as Freeman and Coleman are better versions of Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
Freeman is the premier back. A jack of all trades player who’s just as deadly catching the ball as he is rushing. He has three rushing touchdowns on 30 carries and averaging 60 yards per game.
Coleman assumes the role of third-down/passing situation back. He’s third on the team with receptions (six) and hauled in one of Ryan’s passing touchdowns.
Without Davis, Lions linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Jalen Reeves-Maybin need to step up. Whitehead is replacing Davis at middle linebacker and Reeves-Maybin is taking over at weakside backer. Expect the Falcons to test the middle of the field early and possibly all game.
While the Lions defense is tasked with stopping the Falcons the Lions offense has the harder job of trying to keep up.
Totaling 624 yards in two games (17th most in the NFL), the offense hasn’t had a problem moving the ball. Had the Lions stayed aggressive in the second half against the Giants, they’d be top 10. The Atlanta defense is the best the Lions have faced all year.
Luckily for Lions offensive line, Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley, who led the league in sacks last season, is out for Week 3. A major blow to the Falcons front seven, but don’t count them out yet.
Brooks Reed, the defensive end on Beasley’s side, has racked up two sacks this year. Fellow defensive end Adrian Clayborn, along with cornerback Brian Poole and outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell all have sacks.
The Falcons can bring pressure from all sides and all different positions, which will keep the Lions offense on its toes. Getting to Stafford isn’t easy though, he’s only been brought down four times. While some of the credit has to go to the lineman, a majority of it belongs to Stafford’s legs. His ability to scramble and move around in the pocket has made it tough for teams to bring him down.
Stafford will be the only player to have a successful day on the ground. Riddick has been rendered irrelevant with his 1.9 yards per carry this year. Abdullah hasn’t been much better with a 3.6 YPC that’s being ballooned by a 34 yard rush. Dwayne Washington, the Lions third best rusher behind Abdullah and Stafford, is out with a quad injury leaving the Lions with less of a run game than usual.
Even if the Lions were healthy and somewhat decent at rushing, the Falcons have big, 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe clogging up the middle. Poe is going to demand a lot of attention and will be doubled every play and maybe even tripled a few times, which will open lanes for other players to attack.
As usual, the Lions will rely heavily on their passing attack and they don’t match up well. Receivers Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay will be lined up across Falcons’ corners Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Poole. Edge goes to the Falcons.
After tight end Eric Ebron’s performance last week, expect to see safety Keanu Neal covering him. Ebron benefitted last week from the Giants weak linebacker play, which the Falcons don’t have. Plus with Neal covering him, Ebron will be invisible.
Keys for the Lions
- Get a few quick stops and take an early lead. To stand a chance against the Falcons dynamic offense, Detroit needs to make them one dimensional, making the Falcons predictable.
- Don’t abandon the run. Will it struggle? Yes, but it’s needed. Without a run game the Lions won’t be able to utilize play action passes and will limit the offensive play calling abilities.
- Whitehead and Reeves-Maybin need to play out of their minds. If they aren’t able to fill in for Davis and leave the middle of the field vulnerable, it’s going to be a long day for the defense.
The defense has played well early on, but this Atlanta offense will be too much to handle. This game’s will turn into a track meet and the Lions will be lagging behind. I expect the Falcons defense to get more stops and the Falcons come out on top.
Atlanta 37, Lions 28