Five things to watch: Lions at Falcons

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons are riding the wave of impressive victories last week, looking to salvage their seasons and stay in contention for a playoff spot. In their press conferences this week, Lions coach Matt Patricia and Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris were asked about the potential for momentum to carry over from one game to the next.

For the Lions, that continuation would put them at 3-3 — with all three wins coming on the road — and an upcoming schedule that’s very favorable for a possible playoff push.

That thinking would be getting a little ahead of themselves and that focus is what coaches often look to break, foregoing any lapse in preparation on the current opponent.

The Falcons (1-5) haven’t played well this season, which lead to a housecleaning of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff and the team bringing in Morris to finish the final 11 games.

Despite the subpar record, the Falcons still are a dangerous team, with one of the best defenses in the league against the run, a venerable passing game with quarterback Matt Ryan still able to find receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and a tough running game with Todd Gurley leading the way.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions face the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (1:00 p.m., Fox/760):

1. KEEPING MOMENTUM: After an 0-5 start, the Falcons seem to have rallied around Morris, getting an impressive victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week. Very often, in staff changes, the players respond the first week simply off of the change. Maintaining that drive for a second straight week will be the challenge for the Falcons, who have to carry Morris’ defensive mentality against a Lions squad that is puffing out its chest with an improved running game. The Falcons will be playing their first home game since the coaching change, which could provide a needed boost.  

2. SWIFT RUNNING: The Lions got their own jolt in the ground game, with rookie D’Andre Swift’s 116 yards and two touchdowns. Swift, a standout from the University of Georgia, gets a homecoming and an opportunity to play in front of his family but will need another big game out of the backfield against a difficult defensive front, including defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Swift admired Gurley, a fellow Georgia alum, but might have to outduel Gurley to give the Lions a good shot of controlling the ball.

3. KEEPING UP WITH JONES: After missing two games because of injuries, Jones is back and will be one of the most difficult receivers the Lions have faced this season. He’s the Falcons’ career leader in receptions and he isn’t showing signs of slowing at age 31. After 157 yards in the opening game, Jones broke out for 137 yards and two touchdowns last week, showing that he still has it. In addition, Ridley has become a threat, filling the void left by Jones’ injury with 35 catches in six games, for 546 yards and five touchdowns. He’s a big-play threat and poses as great a threat as Jones.  

4. PASSING FANCY: The Lions and Stafford haven’t dominated through the air this season but they’ll have one of their best opportunities against the Falcons secondary, which is ranked near the bottom of the league. In looking to get good run-pass balance, the Lions seem to have gotten away from the big-play looks to Golladay and Marvin Hall. That may get a reprise in this matchup, with Stafford taking more deep chances and looking to connect early and often.

5.  THE OTHER MATT: Stafford will look to air things out but Ryan could look to do the same. The Falcons have one of the top passing offenses in the NFL — ranking third in the league in attempts and second in passing yards — and if they have a fully healthy Jones and a dependable Ridley, they could pose problems for the Lions secondary, which still won’t have Justin Coleman, although it could have Desmond Trufant, who is questionable. It’ll put more of a focus on rookie Jeff Okudah, who will face one of his biggest challenges.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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