The Detroit Lions are looking to stack back-to-back wins together for the first time this season and get back to the .500 mark on the year as they head down to Atlanta to take on the 1-5 Falcons.
Here are five things to look out for in today's matchup between NFC foes:
1. STAFFORD VS. RYAN
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan are close friends off the field. In fact, Stafford said this week Ryan is probably his best friend in the league who isn't a teammate. Kelly Stafford and Sarah Ryan are close friends, too, and the couples often spend time together in the offseason. Stafford said there will probably be a dinner bet "or something" on the line Sunday.
Stafford has a good matchup this week against a Falcons defense ranked 31st against the pass. Ryan is playing some really good football to start the season (11 TDs & 3 INTs). The Falcons currently have the second best passing offense in the league.
Which of these quarterbacks will out-duel the other? More importantly, which quarterback comes out on top on the score board, and which one buys dinner this offseason?
2. LIONS RUN GAME
Detroit's humming along pretty good to start the year on the ground with their run game. Their 587 yards through five games are the most they've had through their first five games of a season since 1998. Detroit's averaging 117.4 yards per game on the ground, and are coming off a contest in Jacksonville where they racked up 180 rushing yards to control the clock and wear down the Jags' defense.
Detroit's got a much more difficult task this week trying to run the football against a really good Falcons front that enters the contest top five in the NFL against the run. That Atlanta front seven is active and attacking. It will be a good test this week to see if Adrian Peterson, D’Andre Swift and co. can keep the momentum going in the run game.
3. JONES AND RIDLEY
Atlanta's Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley might just be the best receiving duo in the NFL right now. They are are explosive and productive. Ridley is fourth in the NFL with 546 receiving yards, and his five touchdowns are tied for third best. Jones missed time this year due to injury, but in the two full games he's played (Week 1 vs. Seattle and last week vs. Minnesota), he's caught a combined 17 passes for 294 yards and two scores. Atlanta's averaged 410.5 passing yards per game with Jones in the lineup and 255.5 yards without him, per NFL Media Research.
The Lions will be without veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant (hamstring), so the task of trying to contain these two outside receivers will likely fall on second-year cornerback Amani Oruwariye and rookie Jeff Okudah. Oruwariye has been solid all season. Okudah's also been solid, and keeps improving with every game.
But make no mistake, this is the toughest test the Lions have faced from the receiver position so far this season.
4. STOPPING THE RUN
We've talked about the task Detroit's defense has trying to contain Ryan, Jones, Ridley and the rest of Atlanta's explosive playmakers in the passing game. If the Lions let running back Todd Gurley and the Falcons' run game get off the ground early as well, it's almost impossible to keep Atlanta out of the end zone today. Gurley has 422 yards on the ground and five touchdowns this season.
Detroit's best chance on defense is to bottle up Gurley and the run game, making Atlanta one dimensional. That gives defensive end Trey Flowers and the rest of Detroit's pass rush an opportunity to get into some good down-and-distance situations and pin their ears back a little bit to try and speed up Ryan's clock or get him off his spot.
Speaking of Gurley, which former Georgia running back will have the better day today? The veteran Gurley or the rookie Swift? The Falcons have allowed 97.2 rushing yards per game this season (fifth in NFL), while the Lions have allowed 145.0 per game (29th in NFL).
5. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
The Falcons' defense has given up some big plays this season, especially in the passing game. Stafford would be the first to admit they've just missed on some opportunities to make big plays down the field so far this season. Against an offense as explosive as Atlanta's, Stafford and co. need to take advantage of those chances when they come up today.
Atlanta is tied for 29th in the amount of explosive plays (20-plus yards) they've allowed this season and rank last in the league in yards-per-play allowed. There will be opportunities for Detroit's offense to hit on big plays. Will they make the most of those chances?