Jared Goff may or may not play Sunday, and that will help impact the outcome of this game. Regardless of whether he suits up or not, though, the Lions are going to try to beat the Falcons by running the football effectively.
Atlanta’s struggled against the run all year, but four of their six wins have come on days when they’ve held opponents to 110 or fewer yards on the ground. The only team that has beaten them without putting up a huge day running with the football is the Buccaneers, who substituted a killer short passing attack to compensate for their lack of interest in running. Given that Detroit is, at best, a somewhat competent team throwing the ball behind Goff’s dink and dunk ethos, they’re going to try to run the ball.
If recent history is our guide, they’ll do so effectively. Detroit has cleared 100 yards on the ground in five of their last seven games despite injuries and other mishaps piling up, and they’re 2-4-1 in that span with some very close games along the way. Their blocking was good enough against Arizona that Craig Reynolds, who was stuck on the Falcons practice squad last year while the team’s ground game imploded, went for over 100 this past week. If they have D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams back, as I expect they will, things will be easier for them and they’ll try to lean on something they just saw work very well for the 49ers.
It’ll be incumbent on the Falcons to force the Lions to throw the ball and hopefully take advantage of some Goff or Tim Boyle mistakes along the way. The hope is that the impending return of Marlon Davidson will help with that effort, but Atlanta’s going to need a more consistent effort and better tackling across the board to avoid being Jeff Wilsoned. Aside from a game against woeful Carolina and a disinterested-in-running Tampa team, they simply have not been able to put that kind of effort together of late, but it’s within reach with better execution.
I don’t know how much I like this team’s chances of stopping the run entirely or even mostly on Sunday, one of the reasons I don’t love this matchup for them. They’ve chiefly had success of late against teams who can’t or won’t run the ball, and neither is true of the Lions. Let’s hope they can surprise us in a good way for a change, but go in expecting another long day for this run defense.