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International Series 2014: Detroit Lions discuss their success and planning for the Falcons

The Faclons' opponents for this Sunday's game at Wembley, the Detroit Lions, arrived this morning. They took time out from a community event of their own to talk to the media about a myriad of topics - including the secret to their improved defense, and the challenges that the Falcons pose.


Like the Falcons a day before them, the Detroit Lions stepped off their plane at Gatwick Airport and stepped straight onto a bus that would take them immediately to a Play60-branded community event with some London school children. The schedule may have begun the same way - but the experience is likely to have been rather different.

"After the [Saints] game, we were talking about how miserable the flight would have been [if we had lost]," Reggie Bush told the assembled media this morning. "It would have been a long flight so I'm glad we won that, it probably made it a little easier, slept a little better on the flight."

It's an example of the odd mirror image that the Falcons and Lions are casting one each other. The 2-5 Falcons have had just one losing season in the last six years; the 5-2 Lions have had just winning season in the same time span. The Falcons come to London following a one-sided loss; the Lions following a down-to-the-wire comeback win. The home team's 2014 campaign appears to be in a tailspin; the road team's 2014 campaign is on the ascent - and yet the Lions aren't taking anything for granted.

"They're a good, solid team and we're going to give them the respect they deserve," said Golden Tate. While their record may say differently, the Lions say the teams are much closer than they appear.

The strength of the Falcons roster, particularly on offense, hasn't escaped safety Glover Quin. "You look at their offense - they've got a great quarterback, they've got a big running back in Steven Jackson, they've got a super-deep threat in Julio, they've got a great consistent receiver in Roddy White, they've got a breakout guy in Devin Hester, they've got weapons all over the field." Quin shared that the team "will have a couple of things that's special for this game and what [the Falcons] like to do, but for the most part we're not going to change a lot of what we do... [Atlanta] will execute their offense, we'll execute our defense, and we just have to do it better than them."

Quin, who has already set a career high in interceptions in 2014, represents one quarter of arguably the biggest factor in the hugely improved play from the Detroit defense this season - the markedly better play of the secondary. Quin is quick, however, to share the credit with the rest of the defense.

"We've got a great scheme, a great defense," Quin elaborates, "we've got great rush coming from our D line, great coverage from our linebackers, and we've got great coverage from our corners that's forcing the quarterback to make some though throws under pressure, and I've been the beneficiary." Quin also credits the work he does in the film room, offering insight into why the Lions DBs are playing so much better: "You go into the game and you have two or three plays that you're keying in on. You hope that they run them and that you're in the right calls... [and] when the opportunity presents itself for the guys in our secondary and on our defense, they'll make [those] plays."

There's no question that the secondary benefit from both a talented and deep defensive line, and Nick Fairley is more than aware of his unit's role in a defense that ranks in the top five for both sacks and interceptions. "It's on the front four to get pressure on [Matt Ryan] all day, rile him up, get him shaken and make him throw a couple of dud balls to our cornerbacks and safeties," Fairley told me at the Surrey Sports Park earlier today. Many Falcons fans are no doubt concerned over how the injury-ravaged Atlanta O line will contend against their defensive counterparts, but defensive end George Johnson - playing in his third International Series contest - isn't underestimating anybody. "They get paid too - you can't ever say you have an easy opponent", responded Johnson to my question about the Falcons' OL, "you can never look at a team and think you can take advantage of them. They're going to come out just as hard as we are."

Offensive line woes aside, the other Falcons line need to do their job too on Sunday. The Falcons front seven has managed to muster the 27th-ranked rushing defense in the league - but the Lions' rushing offense ranks a paltry 31st in yards-per-carry. The Lions know that this has to improve, and the Falcons' weak rushing defense may present their best opportunity to turn their rushing offense's fortunes around.

"We're not where we want to be with the run game... you're never going to have a perfect game, but we're chasing perfection," said Joique Bell. With the Lions averaging just 3.1 yards a time on the ground, perfection may seem like an ambitious target to chase - but Bell feels that "it's really close. You look on film and it's just one glitch that keeps us from having those explosive runs. We're right there -we just need to get over that hump."

Bush - who believes that London is not only going to see a London franchise one day, but host a Super Bowl too - says that the Lions are putting special emphasis on improving the run. When asked whether it was important to take advantage of Atlanta's struggling run defense, Bush replied: "it's very important to us. Every week our main focus is just to improve and especially in the run game, we know that in order for us to be successful throughout the season our run game has to improve. That's something we're really going to focus on this week and we're going to do our best to try and improve our run game this week."

Of course, when you think of the Lions' offense, it's not the run game you think of - it's the man they call Megatron. Calvin Johnson has been hurt this year, holding him out of the last game, but he made the trip over with the team. When asked about his progress, Johnson said "I'm still working to get on the field each and every week, working every day. If I'm good enough, I'm planning to play [on Sunday]," adding that he's done "just a little bit" of field work this week. Tate said that Johnson's availability is "up to the doctors. I know he's on this trip but he looks good, so I'm hoping he's back... we're definitely going to need him out there, especially this week, but that's doctors' decision so we'll see."

For Tate, Johnson's injuries has been something of a blessing in disguise. "It's a tremendous chance for myself, [Corey] Fuller, [Ryan] Broyles, [Jeremy] Ross to showcase our skills and build the camaraderie and trust between [Matthew Stafford]... I think Matt trusts that he doesn't have to go to #81 all the time, he can rely on us guys to make some plays and help him out." Still, Tate concedes that "once we get back one of the best players in the league, we''re just going to take off."

No doubt the Falcons are hoping that take off is delayed until Monday morning.