The Detroit Lions will try to get back to their winning ways as they welcome the Atlanta Falcons into Ford Field today. The Falcons have started the season 2-0 with wins over Carolina and Green Bay, while the Lions are 1-1 on the season with a win at Kansas City and a loss last week at home vs. Seattle. Here are five things to watch out for in today's NFC matchup:
1. CONTAINING THE RUN
The Falcons come into today's contest averaging 170.5 yards per game on the ground, which is the fourth best mark in the NFL through two games. Head coach Arthur Smith has developed one of the best rushing schemes in the NFL and he's stubborn in the way he uses it. The run game sets up everything else the Falcons want to do on offense.
Rookie Bijan Robinson is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry on the year and also has 10 receptions, but he's just half of a terrific running back duo in Atlanta that also includes a 1,000-yard rusher from last season, Tyler Allgeier. The Falcons' 11 runs of 10-plus yards are second most in the NFL so far this season, and Allgeier and Robinson both have over 120 rushing yards after contact this season.
Detroit's defense has done a nice job containing the rushing attack in their first two games. The 86.0 yards per game allowed by the Lions through two weeks ranks in the top 10 in the NFL. Detroit will have to be physical and gap sound against the wide zone Falcons rushing attack today.
2. GETTING THE PASS RUSH GOING
Lions head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked this week about being more disciplined with their pass rush and better marrying their coverage and rush.
The Lions have accumulated 34 quarterback pressures in two games but that's resulted in just one sack from linebacker Alex Anzalone on a scramble play late in last week's loss to Seattle. Detroit has to speed up Atlanta quarterback Desmond Ridder's clock, get him off his spot, and when they do get pressure, don't allow Ridder any lanes to escape the pocket.
3. JAHMYR GIBBS USAGE
With veteran Lions running back David Montgomery not expected to play today with a thigh bruise, the No. 1 running back duties shift over to the rookie first-round pick Gibbs, who has rushed 14 times for 59 yards (4.2 avg.) and caught nine balls for another 57 yards in his first two games.
Gibbs is an explosive athlete in space. He said he's excited about the opportunity to touch the football more this week with Montgomery on the mend.
"It's always exciting when you get to play some more and touch the ball some more," he said. "I'll be pretty amped up for (Sunday)."
Today's contest will feature the top two running backs taken in this year's NFL Draft in Robinson (No. 8 overall) and Gibbs (No. 12). Who has the more productive day? And more importantly who will walk away with the win in their first head-to-head matchup?
4. FILLING IN
It's always a huge blow when teams lose key contributors on both sides of the ball to injury like the Lions have early on this year. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, defensive lineman Josh Paschal and edge rusher James Houston are all on IR. Key players like Montgomery, left tackle Taylor Decker, guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley aren't expected to play, and some other starters remain questionable for Detroit today.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes and Campbell complimented this team's depth after the construction of the 53-man roster, and that depth will be tested early.
It has to be somewhat comforting for them to know that veteran players like guard Graham Glasgow (91 career starts) and safety Tracy Walker (37) are ready to step in. Not a lot of teams have that kind of veteran depth on the roster. The hope is Detroit sees little to no drop off with some reserves being asked to play big roles today.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, September 21, 2023.
5. STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
Quarterback Jared Goff and Detroit's offense are off to a terrific start. Goff currently ranks in the top five in the NFL in passing yards (576), touchdowns (4) and passer rating (109.0). Through two games the Lions' offense is averaging 393.0 yards per game, which is third best in the NFL and is top 10 in points scored (26.0). Their passing game has been particularly effective, ranking fourth in the league (283.0). Detroit's offense is the strength of this football team and they'll need to be on point against a pretty good Falcons' defense coming in.
Atlanta enters today's contest third in total defense, allowing just 252.5 total yards per game. They've been really good defending the pass, as Carolina and Green Bay have combined to average just 133.5 yards passing in their two losses to the Falcons to start the year. Atlanta plays eight or nine defensive linemen to keep them fresh, and veteran cornerback A.J. Terrell and veteran safety Jessie Bates III have combined for two interceptions, four passes defended and 20 tackles in two games. It's an underrated unit.