The Falcons finally netted their first victory of the 2020 season in Week 6, dominating the Vikings on the road. It was a feel-good win for a team that desperately needed something, anything to get them out of the darkness they had been in since the start of the year. Now 1-5, Atlanta faces the similarly-struggling Lions (2-4) in Week 7. Detroit was another team rumored to be considering firing their head coach and general manager, but also got a convincing win last week.
Here are some of the most important players and matchups to watch as the Falcons and Lions clash in Week 7.
Todd Gurley & Brian Hill
The Falcons got off to a hot start against the Vikings in Week 6 and never looked back. However, that was mostly based on the strength of the passing game, as the rushing attack struggled to move the ball consistently. The team averaged a paltry 2.67 yards per carry against the Vikings, with Gurley and Hill failing to establish any sort of rhythm on the ground.
They should have a far easier task in Week 7 against a Lions defense that is 29th in rushing yardage allowed and T-25th in yards per carry (4.9). Detroit isn’t likely to throw the game away early, which means the Falcons will need to lean on their own rushing attack to mount long drives and keep Matthew Stafford off the field. Gurley has been having a strong season so far—let’s hope that continues on Sunday.
The run defense
The one consistently good part of Atlanta’s defense has been the run defense. After completely shutting down a top-5 rushing attack in Minnesota, the Falcons improved to 5th in rushing yardage allowed and T-8th in yards per carry allowed. They’ll need to be on their game again in Week 7, as the Lions have been a very run-heavy team through the first six games of the season.
Detroit has been about league-avearge on the ground, with the duo of rookie D’Andre Swift and veteran Adrian Peterson contributing to a solid overall rushing attack. If Atlanta can keep Detroit off-schedule by shutting down the run early and often, it will go a long way in helping to force Matthew Stafford into unfavorable third downs. That’s a recipe for success on defense, as the Lions have been below-average at converting on third down (39.4% success rate, 23rd).
After a series of disappointing performances, Matt Ryan rebounded in a big way against the Vikings. His 371-yard, 4 TD performance was arguably his best of the season, as the offense was electric and consistent throughout the game. The Falcons have a tougher test this week against the Lions, who have been about league-average in pass defense through the first six games of the season. A big day from Ryan and the passing attack could help Atlanta get out to an early lead, which could take away Detroit’s biggest strength: the rushing attack.
Takk McKinley & Dante Fowler
The Falcons were relying heavily on two players to help their pass rush flourish in 2020: fourth-year EDGE Takkarist McKinley and free agent addition Dante Fowler Jr. Unfortunately for Atlanta, neither player has contributed much this season. Fowler has been slowed by injury, but otherwise mostly ineffective as a pass rusher—though he has made some key plays against the run in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Takk has looked improved from previous years and has been one of the team’s best pass rushers—but he’s missed the vast majority of the season with a nagging groin injury.
With Fowler’s ankle injury seemingly healed up and Takk returning to practice this week, it’s possible the Falcons will finally get their pass rush back on track. They certainly haven’t been awful—particularly in generating pressure, as the team is about average with a 21.7% pressure rate—but they’ll have to do better with the secondary ailing. Hopefully the healthy return of this “dynamic duo” will pay dividends on Sunday against the Lions, who have thus far been below average in pass protection (6.7% sack rate, 20th).
What are your thoughts on Sunday’s game? Any matchups you’ll be watching closely in Week 7?