The Detroit Lions (2-0) host the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at Ford Field today in a measuring stick game of sorts for the Lions. Detroit handled Arizona and New York the first two weeks of the season, but are they ready to compete with the conferences elite teams?
Here are five things to look out for in today’s matchup:
Atlanta brings with it one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, led by reigning MVP quarterback Matt Ryan. Ideally, a defense would like to have all hands on deck in an attempt to slow the Falcons down, but that won't be the case for the Lions today.
Starting MIKE linebacker Jarrad Davis is out after suffering a concussion Monday night in New York. He didn’t practice all week. Davis has stepped in and become an immediate leader on the defense, and his speed and playmaking ability will certainly be missed. Moving Tahir Whitehead from the WILL to the MIKE probably makes the most sense in replacing Davis, with Paul Worrilow or Jalen Reeves-Maybin playing some WILL. We'll see how the Lions decide to play it.
In the back end, starting strong safety Tavon Wilson is also out after missing practice with a shoulder injury. Second-year player Miles Killebrew is likely to step in and start, but that will have a trickle-down effect into some of the sub packages defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes to use, especially that heavy safety look. At times last week, Killebrew remained in his hybrid role in those packages with Charles Washington taking over the strong safety spot. That's something to watch in this one.
KEEPING PRESSURE ON
Detroit’s defense has done a terrific job early this season pressuring the quarterback. The Lions have generated six sacks, 15 quarterback hits and over 30 hurries. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 67.0 passer rating against them, which is the second worst in football.
If Ryan is able to sit back in the pocket and give receiver Julio Jones an opportunity to get down the field or give running back Devonta Freeman time to work over a linebacker in the middle of the field, it’s going to be a long day for Detroit’s defense.
Detroit’s been able to generate pressure not only from the edge, but also up the middle. Atlanta’s starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder could miss this one due to a concussion. Can the Lions take advantage?
The Lions got their run game going against the Giants, which allowed them to control the game in the fourth quarter and run out the clock. They had 138 yards on the ground, led by Ameer Abdullah’s 86 yards.
The Falcons are just middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run. Chicago gashed them pretty good in Week 1 (6.6 average), though they were better in that regard last week vs. Green Bay. Atlanta’s allowing 92.0 yards per game on the ground.
Can the Lions have the same kind of success they had against the Giants? If they can, it will go a long way to controlling the game and limiting the opportunities for Atlanta’s offense to get on the field and score points.
WHOSE DAY WILL IT BE?
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn talked this week about the unique challenges of scheming to play against a Detroit Lions offense that doesn’t feature any one go-to player, but instead has multiple weapons capable of carrying the load any given Sunday.
"Yeah, and I think that’s when a team is more dangerous in my opinion,” Quinn said. “When you have that many guys who are involved in the offense, get plays to them, it makes you defend the whole field.
"And that’s why I have such respect for both Jim’s (Jim Caldwell & Jim Bob Cooter) and the way they organize the offensive game plan and play it because if you go too much attention to one player, they’ll come back to the other guy to expose that weakness and we’re really building a lot in the same way.”
That’s pretty high praise from one of the best defensive minds in the game. Detroit’s first two games certainly show Quinn's point. Whether it’s been Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Eric Ebron or Abdullah, Detroit’s had different players step up from week-to-week to carry the load. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Who will it be today, and can the Falcons defend it?
MEASURING STICK GAME
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell had a great line this week when asked about being 2-0 to start the year.
“Yeah, you know, doesn’t guarantee you much,” he said. “Only thing it guarantees you is that you won’t be 1-15, that’s about it.”
Caldwell never gets too high about a win or too low after a loss. He tries to keep his team on an even keel. All this week, the talk has been about this game being important because it's the next one on the schedule. They've had a very businesslike approach.
The fact still remains that the defending NFC champions are coming to town, and bring with them essentially the same team – maybe an even better one – than the one that nearly won the Super Bowl in February. This is a measuring stick game for the Lions. Can they strap it up and play with the league’s best for 60 minutes?