The Falcons want to finish the year strong, even if the playoffs are nothing more than a pipedream at this point. Their week 16 matchup against the Lions was one that many fans penciled in as a “win” but Detroit is a scrappy team and they just knocked off the Arizona Cardinals in impressive fashion. Will the Atlanta defense be getting a favorable matchup this week? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler are the only two players worthy of mention in the defensive front, at least when it comes to rushing the passer. Adetokunbo Ogundeji is developing as a rookie, but he’s clearly not there yet. Anthony Rush has been a nice addition to the defensive interior and he’s been a big help in slowing down the opposing team’s running game. Up until the 49ers game, this was a top-15 run defense (in terms of yards per carry). That said, this unit is in deep need of a rebuild in 2022 and is one of the worst units in the league as a whole.
The Lions rookie tackle Penei Sewell has been developing nicely for them and is looking like the player they hoped he’d be. On the left side, Taylor Decker has developed into a good option on the blindside as well in his 6th season. The interior of the line is where the Falcons may have some opportunities. Tommy Kraemer has had to step in at left guard and he’s probably the weak link here. Evan Brown and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are decent enough, but there should be an opportunity or two to disrupt from the interior, and hopefully Jarrett and guys like Marlon Davidson can contribute on that front.
The Lions offensive line is not the worst the Falcons have faced this year. That alone gives Detroit the edge.
The skill positions
A.J. Terrell is currently the highest graded corner by Pro Football Focus. He’s having a monster season and is deserving of All-Pro consideration. Beyond him? Bleh. Fabian Moreau is okay, but the team could definitely upgrade at the other corner position. Darren Hall has shown flashes as a rookie. Jaylinn Hawkins started the year strong but has struggled as of late. The rest of these guys are underwhelming, particularly the linebackers.
Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun had the potential to be great and have been anything but. The Falcons need to consider blowing up the secondary and inside linebacker group outside of Terrell.
Jared Goff is not a good QB. He was in one of the best offenses in football and his former head coach couldn’t wait to get rid of him. That’s ... bad. His weapons in Detroit aren’t particularly intimidating either. Receivers like Kalif Raymond, Josh Reynolds and Amon-Ra St. Brown aren’t scaring defensive coordinators. Tight ends Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra are clearly incapable of replacing T.J. Hockenson. D’Andre Swift has been good and may make the game on Sunday. Craig Reynolds has been doing very well for them in the backfield as well as of late. The Lions will have to rely on their quality running backs if they’re going to do damage offensively.
Goff was put on the COVID list, so his status for the game is up in the air. If Tim Boyle plays, the Lions will likely lean very hard on their running game. This could play to the Falcons one decent trait on defense, giving Atlanta a slight nod here.
Believe me, giving the Falcons defense any consideration feels icky this year, but the Lions could be in trouble if they rely on Tim Boyle on Sunday. Even if Goff does make it, he’s just not a good QB. He is capable of good play occasionally which gives me some pause, but betting on him is like betting on the Falcons pass rush. So, all things considered - this is probably just going to be ugly and you can toss a coin to determine which unit should be favored.