The almighty charts and my presence weren't enough for the Detroit Lions to turn around their five-game losing streak against the lowly Arizona Cardinals. This week, the Lions host the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons on "Monday" Night Football. According to Vegas, the prognosis isn't good. The Lions head into Saturday night as 3.5-point underdogs, which is actually quite modest considering the circumstances. Last week, the Falcons dismantled the New York Giants 34-0. But let's break it down.
Lions Pass Offense (1st) vs. Falcons Pass Defense (17th)
While the Lions passing offense has been outstanding at gaining yards, they have been disappointingly inefficient. They have only surpassed an opponent's passer rating allowed average four times all season.
They rank just 21st in passer rating (80.8), 19th in yards per attempt (6.9) and 20th in completion percentage (59.8 percent). It's fair to say at this point that the Lions pass offense is not only non-elite, it's below average. They've taken a huge step back this year and it's a major reason for the Lions' struggles this season.
The Falcons pass defense isn't particularly scary. They've only held six of 14 opponents below passer rating averages, though they've held seven of 14 below yardage averages. Overall, they've been a very mixed bag. They let team like the Raiders and Panthers (twice) dominate them through the air (though they won those games). But they've held quality passing teams like the Giants, Broncos and Redskins all well below their averages.
The Falcons rank seventh in passer rating allowed (76.9), tied for 20th in yards per attempt allowed (7.4) and 15th in completion percentage allowed (61.1 percent). The good news: Atlanta only has 29 sacks on the season (tied for 20th).
Player to watch: Thomas DeCoud. The 27-year-old safety has netted the Falcons 6 interceptions. He also is second on the team with 8 passes deflected.
Advantage: Falcons +1. The Lions passing attack has taken a big hit with all of the injuries. Last week, Matthew Stafford threw the ball 50 times, and only four were caught by wide receivers not named Calvin Johnson. The Falcons defense isn't that great, but the Lions pass offense has been completely neutralized as of late.
Lions Run Offense (23rd) vs. Falcons Run Defense (24th)
The Lions run offense continues to be below average. They've only outgained yards per carry averages in four of 14 games and yardage averages in five of 14 games.
The Lions average a modest 4.2 a carry (tied for 14th) and gain a first down on 21.8 percent of runs (16th). But, they have struggled to break any big runs this season and Mikel Leshoure's struggles are a big part of that.
The Falcons have struggled all season at stopping the run. Only two opponents have failed to meet their yards per carry average against the Falcons, and only five couldn't reach their average yards. However, the Falcons have been much improved as of late. Only one of their past four opponents outgained their averages in both yards and yards per carry.
Overall, the Falcons are ceding 4.9 a carry (30th) and have given up 14 touchdowns (tied for 26th). The Falcons are particularly prone to giving up the long run. They have given up 7 rushes of 40+ yards (most in the league).
Player to watch: Joique Bell. I think I'm finally on the Joique-should-be-getting-the-bulk-of-the-carries wagon. He's averaging much more per carry and is the only running back with a rush over 20 yards.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. Though the Falcons have been better as of late, for the entire season they've been one of the worst run defenses in the entire league. While the Lions aren't exactly electric on the ground, they've shown they are, at the very least, competent. I expect the Lions to really push the run game on offense, especially with their lack of passing weapons.
Falcons Pass Offense (5th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (11th)
The Falcons pass offense has all the yardage of the Lions pass offense but with all of the efficiency to go with it. They've only been held below averages in three of 14 games in passer rating and in just one of 14 in yardage.
They rank sixth in passer rating (97.5), tied for fourth in yards per attempt (7.8) and first in completion percentage (68.5 percent). Matt Ryan has quietly had another outstanding year. He's fifth in TDs (27) and fourth in ESPN's QBR (74.6). Though he has thrown as many interceptions (14) this season as he has ever in his career, he is still bordering on elite status.
The Lions have actually been surprisingly decent at pass defending in the past four weeks. No team has significantly surpassed their average passer rating against the Lions since their second matchup versus the Vikings. Granted, it hasn't resulted in any wins, but it's still nice to see.
Overall, the Lions rank 17th in passer rating allowed (87.9), tied for 10th in yards per attempt allowed (6.8) and tied for 23rd in completion percentage allowed (63.0 percent). For all the injuries they've incurred, the Lions have actually been a pretty average or slightly below average passing defense.
Advantage: Falcons +2.5. The Lions haven't really faced a passing offense like the Falcons this season. The closest they've come is the Packers, but both times they played Green Bay, the Packers were short-handed. The Falcons are basically at full strength on offense, which is big trouble. Chris Houston has done a great job on No. 1 receivers this year, but he can't cover Jones, White and Gonzalez on every play. I've done the math, it's not possible.
Falcons Run Offense (28th) vs. Lions Run Defense (18th)
The Falcons haven't done very much on the ground this year. They've only surpassed yardage and yards per carry averages in three of 14 games this season.
It isn't for a lack of talent. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are a great one-two punch on the ground, yet neither is averaging 4.0 a carry. Overall, the team is averaging 3.7 a carry (tied for 27th).
After a strong start to the season, the Lions have struggled against the run as of late. With two of their top three defensive tackles on IR, the Lions are unable to rotate linemen as often as they'd like. Luckily, the Lions still have a good amount of depth there, but the numbers don't lie: The Lions are missing Corey Williams and Nick Fairley.
The Lions are giving up 4.6 a carry (tied for 26th). But much of that is due to their challenging schedule. As evidenced by the chart, they've given up a lot of yards to teams like the Vikings, 49ers and Seahawks, while still holding them below their averages.
Player to watch: Peter Konz. Konz, a rookie RG, was on many Lions fans' wish list for the 2012 draft. He has done a formidable job for the Falcons this season but will be taking on Ndamukong Suh on Saturday. Suh may be having his best season to date (according to teamrankings.com, he ranks seventh in tackles for loss).
Advantage: Lions +0.5. The Falcons won't rely on the running game much, only to keep the Lions defense honest. The Lions are capable of holding the Falcons in check, but they must prevent any big plays on the ground.
Motivation: The Lions are all but out of any sort of motivation to win a game. A lot of the players are in contract years, so they have motivation to do well individually, but a win won't do much to change anything. The Falcons, however, have yet to clinch a first-round bye.
Pride of Detroit: We'll see if such a thing exists on Saturday. With the nation watching, the Lions and their fans will get a chance to show that they still have pride in the team. After such an awful loss last week, it's easy to see the Lions rolling over in anticipation of the offseason. But if they have any sort of pride in the city of Detroit and their Lions, they'll come out and give it their all.
The Falcons have a slight +1.5 advantage, which mirrors the Vegas line. One extra thing I found interesting during my research is the Lions actually rank higher in every statistical category (by yardage) than the Falcons. Of course, yards don't tell the entire story. While the two teams are actually very similar, the biggest difference is the efficiency of the Falcons' passing offense. That can be seen clearly when looking at the points per game (26.5 to 23.6). While those three points a game don't seem like much, think about how close most of the Lions' games have been this season. That's your difference between 4-10 and 8-6 or 7-7. And that's your difference on Saturday: Falcons 31, Lions 27.
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