Week 3 is finally upon us, and the Falcons are in prime position at 2-0 after dispatching the Packers on Sunday Night Football. They’ll face another challenge on Sunday, as Atlanta travels to Detroit to take on the currently-undefeated Lions. Both these teams appear to have quality offenses and improving defenses, and both appear to be in the mix for playoff spots in the NFC.
This is an important road test for the Falcons. With a win in Detroit, they’d have a very good chance of entering the bye week 4-0 with only a home game against the struggling Buffalo Bills in their way. That’ll be easier said than done, however, as the Lions won’t make it easy to come away with a W.
Let’s take a look at some of the interesting players to keep an eye on against the Lions.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
The obvious choice, and arguably the most important player to watch during Sunday’s match-up. With Beasley out of the lineup for at least another few games, McKinley will be depended upon to be the Falcons’ premier pass rusher. He’s shown flashes in his limited playing time, and seems to be capable as a run-stuffer as well. Depending on where the Falcons line him up, he may have a stiff test or an easy one. Lions’ LT Greg Robinson was putrid last week against the Giants, but RT Ricky Wagner is much more solid.
Regardless of where he lines up, McKinley will need to make an impact against a dangerous Lions offense that has put up plenty of points in the first two weeks of the season. Luckily, he should have plenty of help around him in the form of a healthy Adrian Clayborn and the dynamic interior duo of Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe. This will be Takk’s first chance as an NFL starter, and we all hope for a strong debut.
T Ty Sambrailo
Assuming the Falcons don’t make the switch to T Austin Pasztor—and there’s been no indication that they’re planning to do that—Sambrailo will start at RT on Sunday in Schraeder’s place. It’s in the realm of possibility that Schraeder could clear the concussion protocol by Sunday, but it’s pretty unlikely. Sambrailo was a much-maligned player after his signing, with most Falcons fans remembering the beating that Vic Beasley inflicted on him last season.
Sambrailo, however, was solid against the Packers’ duo of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. He’s clearly not the elite RT that Schraeder is, but he didn’t cripple the offense and looked athletic enough to make the reach blocks the Falcons demand from their tackles. Detroit has an elite edge rusher in Ziggy Ansah that will likely get matched-up on Sambrailo, and it will be up to the young player to hold up as long as possible. Atlanta will likely give Sambrailo blocking help in the form of a TE and possibly include some rollouts for Ryan, but his ability to hold up in pass protection will be a big factor in the game.
RB Tevin Coleman
The Lions will likely be down rookie MLB Jarrad Davis in this game, who has been a vast improvement to their LB corps in both run defense and coverage. Without him, the Lions will be forced to move LB Tahir Whitehead to MLB (a role he struggled with in 2016) and then fill in Whitehead’s WLB spot with either veteran LB Paul Worrilow—who Falcons fans should be intimately familiar with—or untested rookie LB Jaylen Reeves-Maybin.
Either way, the Lions will be trotting out a player that is totally unqualified to cover Tevin Coleman in the passing game. Expect the Falcons to target this match-up early and often throughout Sunday’s game. Coleman is a difficult assignment for even quality coverage LBs. We all know what will happen if Paul Worrilow is the one drawing Coleman’s coverage—bad things for the Lions. I think Coleman could have a huge game against Detroit on Sunday.
CBs Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Brian Poole
The Falcons top three CBs are among the best in the league, and they’ll have their hands full against a very good Lions’ receiving corps. Atlanta will probably try their hand at having their CBs play designated sides—Trufant on the right side, Alford on the left, and Poole in the slot. All three receivers are quality players, but none are true #1 threats. Poole will likely be the player that the Lions target, potentially with someone like Golden Tate.
This will be the stiffest test yet for the Falcons’ CBs, who played well against the Packers but only had to face Jordy Nelson for the first quarter. Hopefully Quinn will have the defense playing more man coverage, as the team (and secondary) seem to perform better in that scheme as opposed to zone. If they can hold up, it would give the Falcons’ pass rush more opportunities to put pressure on Matt Stafford.
LBs Duke Riley and Deion Jones
One the Falcons’ biggest weaknesses on defense in 2016 was the inability to effectively cover RBs out of the backfield. In 2017, that trend has continued to hold true. Atlanta was gouged in Week 1 by the explosive rookie Tarik Cohen, and allowed Packers’ RB Ty Montgomery to have a big day through the air during SNF. The Falcons have covered RBs better overall in 2017, at least by the eye test, but they’re still allowing a lot of yards and completions statistically.
The young LBs Duke Riley and Deion Jones are the best hope for the Falcons to improve in this area. Jones is already very solid in coverage, although it was likely a mental error by him that led to Montgomery’s biggest catch in Week 2. Riley is inexperienced, but he has the athletic ability to match up against shiftier backs. He just needs to improve his tackling and instincts. They will face a difficult challenge in Lions’ RB Theo Riddick, who is one of the more dangerous pass catching RBs in the NFL. How they perform on Sunday will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Who are some players you’ll be watching against Detroit? Do you think the Falcons can come away with the win and remain undefeated? Any particular Lions players that you’re concerned about?