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Falcons Flyover: December 21, 2012

Your daily collection of Falcons and NFL news and notes from around the Web.

Gregory Shamus

Assuming the world didn't come to an end prior to the publication of this article, the Falcons are still slated to take on the Detroit Lions on Saturday Night. For the fourth time this season, Atlanta will have a chance to showcase its talent on a national stage, as the game will be broadcasted live on ESPN.

While it isn't wise to pay much attention to public perception, this is a good time for the Falcons to be back in the spotlight. After drubbing the Giants 34-0 last Sunday, the football world is eager to see whether that performance was a fluke, or indicative of the team's true potential.

Smith Says Lions are a 'Very Good Football Team'
After being embarrassed by the lowly Panthers a few weeks ago, the Falcons learned the hard way that you can't take anyone in this league lightly. So even though the Detroit Lions may have a mediocre 4-10 record, that doesn't mean Mike Smith is ready to chalk this game up to an easy victory.

"They are very talented defensively, much like last week, we'll be facing a defensive front that is probably the strength of their defense," Smith said. "On the offensive side, they've got arguably one of the best wide receivers that's going to create issues. Their quarterback has a very strong arm and can fling it around the field."

Weatherspoon Stepping Up as Defensive Leader
In just his third year in the NFL, former first round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon has emerged as the leader of Mike Nolan's defense—both with his strong play and articulative nature.

The University of Missouri alumnus is currently third on the team with 58 tackles, reaching that number despite missing three games with an injured ankle. In addition to his strong numbers, Weatherspoon's ability to lead others vocally has made a big difference.

Running Game Remains Unsolvable
Despite a strong start last Sunday, the Falcons running game ultimately fell stagnant against the Giants, and as a whole finished with a worse YPC figure (3.6) than the season average (3.7). New York's rushing defense, which was 27th in the league entering that contest, was about as poor as Atlanta can expect to see for the remainder of the season—and that includes the playoffs. Given the Falcons lack of success in this department, it's hard to believe that anything will change before the summer.

The only way I can possibly see Atlanta's run game ignited is by giving Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling more carries. Honestly, platooning those two guys would probably be better than giving the bulk of the carries to Turner, who has had more than enough opportunities this year to return to old form.

If only Turner could've lasted one more year before hitting that "brick wall" running backs often collide with on the back end of their careers. If he was still in Pro Bowl form, this team would be borderline unbeatable.

Atlanta Ready to Contain Calvin Johnson
It's one thing to say you're ready to stop Calvin Johnson. It's another to actually do it. Facing off against a banged up group of wide receivers, keeping Johnson under wraps will be the top priority of the Falcons' secondary.

"I can assure you that every team that's played the Detroit Lions, one of their musts that they go in, they feel like they must be able to contain Calvin Johnson," Smith said. "And up to this point, I don't think anybody's done a very good job of it. His numbers are just out of this world."

For Atlanta to keep Johnson from having a monster day, the Georgia Tech grad will require double coverage more often than not. This duty will likely fall on Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. If they can succeed, it's hard to imagine Detroit will be able to put up enough points to stay competitive for four quarters.

Falcons Can Avoid Cold Playoff Games with a Win on Saturday
If the Falcons beat the Lions on Saturday night, they will not only clinch the top seed in the NFC, they'll assure themselves no outdoor games in the playoffs. With the Super Bowl taking place in New Orleans, every game the Falcons play in the postseason will be in a dome, an atmosphere they've proven to be quite comfortable in.

While the team has faired well on the road in 2012, that can easily change with frigid temperatures and a wintery mix falling down from the heavens. Last year's playoff loss in the Meadowlands and the 2004 NFC Championship immediately come to mind.