The Falcons have thrown a wrench into all analysis pieces this week because of their shocking dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings on the road. The question around this team - and particularly this defense - is whether it was a one week aberration or the new standard. Given that Atlanta is still 1-5, some serious caution is warranted. Once the team can repeat the performance - and this Sunday will be a good challenge - one would be wise to hold off on any “the season is saved” proclamations.
In the trenches
Grady Jarrett remains the heart and soul of the defense, but the team is finally beginning to see contributions from elsewhere. Allen Bailey was a massive factor against the Vikings and Charles Harris has been a pleasant surprise. Dante Fowler has not been good so far, but he did look better as well in week 6. If Takk McKinley can get back and stay healthy, he promises to be a nice pass rush upgrade, though that is a big if. This unit was quite good last week but five other games suggest they’re still not good.
The Lions, on the other hand, have a good offensive line. LT Taylor Decker is a top 10 tackle and you could make the argument that Frank Ragnow is one of the best centers in the league. LG Jonah Jackson is off to a nice start while Halapoulivaati Vaitai and RT Tyrell Crosby are similarly solid players on the right side. All together, this is a good group that is giving Matthew Stafford time in the pocket.
If Takk is able to play, he could help but right now the Lions own a strong advantage here.
The skill positions
A.J. Terrell is showing the kind of growth you want to see in a rookie corner. His strong performance against the Vikings will be needed again on Sunday. For all the flack he gets, Isaiah Oliver actually ranks far better (61/121) than Kendall Sheffield (120/121) per PFF. He’s been steadily improving as the season has gone on. Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal looked far better last weekend than they have all year, so hopefully this is a sign that both guys are healthy and returning to form. Deion Jones looked awake for the first time in 2020 while Foye Oluokun has turned in a phenomenal 3rd season so far. This is a unit with a lot of potential, but an inconsistent track record so far.
Matthew Stafford is pretty much the same QB he’s always been - big arm, crazy throws but a level of inconsistency in his decision making that can be incredibly frustrating for Lions fans. He’s got a good group of weapons though. Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola are a solid if not spectacular trio of receivers. Tight end T.J. Hockenson has improved dramatically in year 2 and D’Andre Swift is looking good so far in limited snaps while Adrian Peterson is ... well, he’s old.
As mentioned before, the Falcons defense showed so much more than we had seen all year in week 6. I’m just not sure anyone is willing to buy it yet. If they can show up and do the same to the Lions, it will go a long way. Until they repeat that performance, though, buyer beware.
The bottom line is this: once bitten, twice shy. The players have to prove that they weren’t the problem in the 0-5 start and that means repeating their Minnesota performance again this week. Until they do that, you have to give a good looking Lions offense the nod.