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The Cheat Sheet: Stopping the run is the key to stopping the Falcons

Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons game preview and prediction.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It will be a battle between the former University of Georgia running backs when the Lions travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons.

Both Todd Gurley and D’Andre Swift left college with over 3,500 yards, and it should be a good matchup when the two meet again on Sunday. Gurley currently has the eighth-most rush yards in the NFL and Swift is coming off the best game of his rookie season.

The Lions are going to want to deploy a similar strategy that they did against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week – stop the run first and allow the rest of the defense to follow.

Of course, anyone who watched the first month and a half of the Lions’ season knows this is easier said than done. But the Lions can build upon what they did in Jacksonville last week.

Prior to Week 6, the Lions were giving up a league-worst 170.3 yards rushing per game.

Last week? Just 44 rushing yards.

And that solid run defense allowed the Lions to mix up their coverages and blitz packages against Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars offense.

“They’re a very good defense and very well-coached,” Minshew said. “That’s one thing that stands out. They did a good job mixing their blitzes and mixing their coverage. We never really got settled in and we just need to do a better job starting faster and getting in that rhythm a little sooner.”

One thing about Minshew is he is an excellent athlete who was able to keep plays and drives alive by eluding the rush with his feet. That is not the case with Matt Ryan. In his 13th seasons, Ryan is a traditional pocket passer who struggles to make things happen when the play breaks down.

If the Lions can limit Gurley’s production, they should be able to get favorable matchups against the Falcons’ passing offense despite having two excellent receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Opponent snapshot

After a miserable start, the Falcons fired their GM and head coach. Not surprisingly they get the “interim head coach bump” and pulled out an impressive win against the Vikings last week in Raheem Morris’ first outing as the Falcons’ head coach.

The Falcons had a solid win last week despite it being relatively flukey. They picked off Kirk Cousins three times including the first play of the game.

There’s no telling how long that shine will last, and if things go South on Sunday, the wheels could really start to come off of the Falcons organization.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Falcons’ biggest threat

Calvin Ridley

Julio Jones came back last week after missing two weeks, but he did pop up on the injury report as a non-participant on Wednesday. Jones was excellent in his return, catching eight out of 10 targets for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

But it’s the receiver opposite Jones that Lions fans should pay attention to. Calvin Ridley has gotten double-digit targets and over 100 yards in four out of the first six games this year.

The Lions have struggled to stop the pass this season. And while Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye played quite well coming out of the bye week, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Ridley put up big numbers against the Lions on Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Falcons’ weak link

Pass defense

The Falcons pass defense can be exploited. Plain and simple. Through six games it is an obvious weak point.

They currently rank:

  • 32nd in Pass Yards Allowed (2,012)
  • 31st in Net Yards Gained Per Pass Attempt (8.1)
  • 31st in Average Yards Per Game (335.3)
  • 31st in Passing First Downs Allowed (98)

So, while I’m sure the Lions would love to repeat last week’s rushing performance, they should also take their shots downfield to exploit the Atlanta pass defense.

Bottom line

Both teams are coming off of feel-good wins. But both teams probably aren’t as good as they performed last Sunday. It’s a winnable game for the Lions if they can stop the run and force Atlanta to play from behind. Give me the Lions in a close one.

Prediction

Lions 34 Falcons 30