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Falcons vs. Lions: Detroit's hidden offensive strength and five other things to know

Posted Sep 21, 2017

As two of the only three NFC teams with a perfect 2-0 record, this Sunday’s matchup between the Falcons and the Lions is an intriguing one.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As two of the only three NFC teams with a perfect 2-0 record, this Sunday’s matchup between the Falcons and the Lions is an intriguing one. Both teams are coming off prime-time victories and have potent offenses and swarming defenses.

How Detroit’s defense stacks up against Atlanta’s offense is particularly interesting. The Lions’ pass-rush harassed Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Monday night, and they’ve generated turnovers at an impressive rate.

Detroit is currently ranked seventh in both scoring and total defense through the first two games, giving up 16.5 points and 289 yards per game, while Atlanta is ranked eighth in both of those categories on offense, averaging 28.5 points and 368 yards. 

While those two units will be exciting to watch, the true matchup of the game occurs when the Falcons’ defense and Lions’ offense are on the field.

KEY MATCHUP: Falcons’ tackling vs. Lions’ short passing game

It’s well established that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has a big arm and can sling the ball downfield. With running backs like Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick in the backfield as well as a sure-handed receiver like Golden Tate, however, Detroit is more than capable of picking defenses apart with short passes and in the screen game.

“We call those ‘catch-and-run plays,’” Quinn said. “There’s a part of their offense that doesn’t get a lot of notoriety because it may show up in the stat sheet as just a completion, but their screen game is really effective. That’s wide receiver screens, that’s running back screens and the way they can get the ball into a playmaker’s hands fast and allow him to get down the field. That’s been a real part of coach (Jim) Caldwell’s package for a long time.”

All three of those players – Abdullah, Riddick and Tate – are very capable open-field runners who can make defenders miss. Part of Quinn’s defensive philosophy is built around limiting big downfield plays and having fast players who can rally around the ball-carrier on short-yardage passes to prevent any further advancement and look to jar the ball loose.

With the skill set that the Lions have at running back and receiver, sound tackling is going to be extremely important in getting Detroit’s offense off the field on Sunday.

“You got that right,” Quinn said when asked if that tackling would be on high alert this week. “When you have a change-of-direction back or a player who can really extend plays – and Golden Tate’s another one, although he plays receiver, he can play with the ball in his hands like a running back. He’s got change of direction, he’s got strength to finish runs after the catch.

“There could be some completions down low, but that’s where our tackling, that’s where our kill-zone has to come to life. Our compression tackling, where it’s not a one-man tackle.”

Five more things to know about Falcons-Lions

1. The Lions have an effective no-huddle offense

After leading the NFL with 101 no-huddle snaps in the preseason, Detroit has been effective when going directly to the line thus far in2017. The Lions lead the league with 38.4 percent of their plays being run without a huddle, according to Pro Football Focus, and they’ve moved the ball well when running their no-huddle offense. Stafford is 25-of-32 (78 percent) for 165 yards and three touchdowns out of the no-huddle this season. Detroit has also run the ball well in those situations, averaging 7.8 yards per carry in their Monday night win against the New York Giants.

2. Ryan has had success against the Lions

Matt Ryan’s first career win in the NFL came against the Lions in Week 1 of the 2008 season. His first pass attempt in that game – and the first of his career, overall – was a 62-yard touchdown strike to Michael Jenkins. Ryan has a 3-1 record all-time against the Lions, and he has completed 69.81 percent of his passes for 886 yards with nine total touchdowns and three interceptions in those games.

3. Detroit’s secondary is off to a fast start

While the Lion’s pass rush collected five sacks against the Giants, including three from Ziggy Ansah, their secondary has played equally as well. Detroit is currently second in the NFL with four interceptions through two games, and it has had several chances to add to that total. The Lions also lead the league with 17 passes defended. Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay are the two big names in Detroit’s secondary, but it’s truly been a group effort from that unit to start the season.

Although they’ve given up 471 yards through the air so far in 2017, which ranks 21st in the league, only five teams have had more passes thrown against them than the Lions. The most important takeaway, is that Detroit’s ability to prevent receptions and force turnovers has kept their opponents out of the end zone.

4. The right side of the Lions’ offensive line is a strength

Detroit made two big moves in free agency this offseason to solidify the right side of its offensive line, and the signing of Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang at right tackle and right guard, respectively, have panned out big time so far. Wagner is rated as the fifth-best right tackle this season by Pro Football Focus, while Lang has been deemed the 10th-best at his position.

The Lions have run 12 times behind the right tackle and 13 times around the right end through the first two weeks, which are both the highest totals in the league. In previewing the matchup, Quinn noted the ability Detroit has on that side of the line.

“I think their line has played well especially on that right side,” Quinn said. “They’ve added some players certainly to the line and especially on the right side with two new starters. You can tell they’re very equipped. The right tackle and right guard are good, strong pass protectors and good in the run game. That part for sure is coming in, and their run game seems to be better because of that.”

5. A familiar face will be playing linebacker for DetroitWhen the Falcons’ offense takes the field, fans may recognize one of the linebackers on the opposite side of the ball. Paul Worrilow has played in both games for the Lions so far in 2017, recording two tackles and a pass defense in that time. Worrilow spent four years in Atlanta and had 242 tackles for the Falcons. He signed with the Lions as a free agent this offseason.

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on AtlantaFalcons.com represent those of the individual authors. Unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The writers’ views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Falcons officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.