The Falcons and Lions play weird games, ones that end in bizarre fashion and are competitive until the very last. This year, with Detroit’s resurgence paired with their heavy injury burden and whatever the hell gets into Atlanta in the fourth quarter of games, virtually ensures it’ll be the case again.
Those games are weird like this:
Never forget how the Falcons’ last visit to Detroit ended: pic.twitter.com/k4oUQhUc16— Adnan Ikic (@SayWhichWay) September 21, 2023
Or like this:
Can’t get this great Curtis Compton photo out of my brain!!!! (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) October 26, 2020
Detroit Lions linebacker Jamie Collins signals touchdown as Falcons running back Todd Gurley attempted to stop short of the goal line to expend more time on the clock. pic.twitter.com/lZzdHGjdmb
That makes projecting results and specific outcomes tricky—remember, weird stuff happens!—but I think I feel pretty confident in what I should be confident about. And concerned about, inevitably.
Be confident Atlanta will make the Lions one-dimensional
I don’t think Detroit is going to be able to run the ball well. Famous last words, perhaps?
Jahmyr Gibbs is an exciting young talent and this team has some stellar run blockers, with wide receiver Josh Reynolds consistently delivering alongside offensive line fixtures Penei Sewell at tackle and Frank Ragnow at center. There really isn’t a weak link on the line in that regard, though Sewell and Ragnow are absolutely standout players.
The issue isn’t talent, then, so much as it is will. The Lions ran a lot against the Chiefs and were moderately successful doing so, mostly on those rare carries for Gibbs; they ran far less against the Seahawks once David Montgomery went down and had far less success doing so.
Atlanta’s run defense had better luck against the Packers than the Panthers, and that’s not surprising with Aaron Jones out. Against a Detroit rushing attack that has been hesitant to lean heavily on Gibbs and has not other real, compelling options, a disciplined effort by a gelling group of solid run defenders up front should cause the Lions to largely abandon the run early. If Atlanta’s offense really gets rolling and can forge a lead, that should only accelerate that.
An honorable mention here goes to the Falcons’ ground game. I know Detroit can stop the run well and have done so in back-to-back weeks pretty effectively; I also know they haven’t seen Atlanta run the ball yet. Good luck with that.
Worry that Detroit are good at being one-dimensional
Against Atlanta’s very capable secondary, Detroit could very well make a couple of crucial mistakes that could turn the tide of this game. The problem is that without those mistakes, the Lions will likely carve the Falcons up a bit, certainly much more than Bryce Young and Jordan Love could do with limited supporting casts.
That’s not to diminish Atlanta’s strength as a pass defense—it’s real—but to put Detroit’s passing success in its proper context. Jared Goff has quietly been one of the most effective passers in the entire NFL, with only a tiny handful of lousy throws, three passes batted down at the line, and the kind of stellar accuracy and ability to attack defenses at multiple levels that makes him dangerous. Goff is helped a great deal by the caliber of his weaponry, which includes stud receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, Mack Hollins-esque blocker-and-capable receiver Josh Reynolds, and promising rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. Gibbs adds a dangerous element as a pass catcher in his own right, and given that Goff does well with time and without a ton of pressure, Atlanta’s lack of a high-end pass rush to this point is a concern.
The Lions won’t win this game just by passing well, but it should absolutely keep them in this game until the end. Atlanta needs to be extremely sharp to slow Goff, and if they can do that, any doubt about the defense’s improvement will be laid to rest.