The Falcons are currently treading water in the NFC playoff race, despite some really evident flaws with how their current roster is performing.
Draft position be damned.
If head coach Dan Campbell and his staff can get this team to rattle off a couple of wins in December, after a tough year where they dealt with plenty of last second losses and gut punches, I am personally all for that.
Let’s take a look at how the Lions can make it two in a row.
Control the line of scrimmage
Similar to the Lions’ game plan every week, everything revolves around their ability to control the line of scrimmage. If they can do that, they can dictate the entire tempo of a game, often times bending an opponent to their will - like they did against Arizona last week.
The Lions’ offensive line protected quarterback Jared Goff well and was carving out huge holes for running back Craig Reynolds to run through. They will have to do more of the same this week in order for the Lions to be successful in Atlanta, with Jared Goff being ruled out, and backup quarterback Tim Boyle presumably getting the start.
Being efficient on first and second down will be even more essential for the Lions this week, as they will want to do their best at keeping Boyle out of third-and-long situations.
With how the offensive line has been playing lately, I would expect for the Lions to come out and attack the teeth of that Falcons defense right away. Force their front seven—who, outside of Grady Jarrett, has been playing some bad football—to be gap sound and tackle well in space.
Defensively, the same approach goes.
The Falcons have a good offensive line on paper, having used a lot of draft capital to assemble their current group, but the unit is not playing up to its potential.
If Detroit can limit the Atlanta ground game early, they should feel good about their ability to pressure veteran quarterback Matt Ryan on obvious passing downs.
Win turnover battle
This key sounds really simple because it is.
The Lions were able to recover from a turnover last week, something they have not done well at all this season. But they had a big lead against Arizona, and were bailed out by an amazing interception by cornerback Amani Oruwariye.
I wouldn’t count on that sort of thing two weeks in a row.
This week, a lot of this responsibility is going to rest directly on quarterback Tim Boyle’s shoulders. His first showing was, to put it cordially, really underwhelming. And to be fair, Boyle had not practiced much due to an injury, and the weather in Cleveland made it even more difficult on the young quarterback.
The Lions need him to efficiently operate the offense. Be decisive with his reads, get the ball out on time, and don’t force the issue when the situation doesn’t warrant it.
In previous editions of keys to the game, I have said the defense needs to force a few takeaways in order for the Lions to win. I don’t think that is the case this week (though it would certainly be welcomed with open warms), as I think these teams are more evenly matched than their records indicate.
Don’t turn the ball over and give Atlanta extra possessions in plus territory, and I think the Lions will have a shot at winning this one.
Punch them in the mouth
Do exactly what you did last week. Script a nice opening drive for Boyle, get on the board.
Force Atlanta into a quick punt, score again, and dictate the rest of the game.
It really seemed like I blinked last week, and the Lions were up 10-0 on the Cardinals. And to me, that is the definition of getting punched in the mouth. Being down two scores before even breaking a sweat can do things to an opponent from a mental standpoint. They can start pressing, and when you start pressing, mistakes usually follow.