After a crushing 37-31 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week, the Detroit Lions look to rebound at home against an undefeated Atlanta Falcons team. Both teams are trending in the right direction, but instead of a matchup of two undefeated darlings, Atlanta enters Ford Field as the lone team without a loss. The last time these two teams played was back in 2021 when the Falcons were able to defeat the Lions 20-16, back when Matt Ryan was at quarterback for Atlanta and Tim Boyle was playing for quarterback Jared Goff due to COVID.
Since that matchup, much has changed. The Lions have been ascending with a 9-8 record last season. Atlanta finished 2022 with a 7-10 record for the second straight season. Last season, Atlanta was edged out by the 8-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a down year in the NFC South. This season, the division is looking similar in nobody knows who will win, but Atlanta so far is tied with Tampa Bay to start the year.
Besides the weak division, the Falcons just weren’t able to overcome some issues on offense last season. Tight end Kyle Pitts tore his MCL and would miss the final seven games of the year. The quarterback position was rough as veteran Marcus Mariota defeated rookie Desmond Ridder for the job before the Falcons benched Mariota in the final four games and let Ridder showcase what he could do. The team was in the bottom half in defense and just overall it wasn’t a solid squad to win even the easiest division in the NFL last season.
This year, though, is appearing different so far for the Falcons, but just because they are undefeated doesn’t mean they are impossible to defeat. Let’s take a deeper look at the Atlanta Falcons in our Week 3 Detroit Lions scouting report.
- 7-10 record ( 4th in NFC South)
- 15th in points scored, 23rd in points allowed
- Overall DVOA: 19th (8th on offense, 31st on defense)
As I mentioned earlier, last season for the offense wasn’t the best, but it also wasn’t the worst. The quarterback play was the biggest discussion and glaring issue as Ridder took on Mariota in the offseason before Falcons head coach Arthur Smith decided to call it a season for Mariota and see what Ridder could do in the final four games. Both quarterbacks favored wide receiver Drake London as he was the top option on the team last season with 866 yards and four touchdowns. Pitts was coming off a strong 1,000-yard season in 2021, only to finish with 356 yards and two touchdowns on the shortened year.
What helped the offense was the play of the running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier, who combined for over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. Patterson was the leading rusher in 2021, but split time with Mike Davis. Last season, Allgeier was the leading back, and understandably so after a strong rookie campaign where he got over 1,000 yards. Having a mobile quarterback earlier in the season, Mariota helped keep defenses on their toes.
The defense for Atlanta wasn’t much help. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett led the team in sacks with six and was the main star along a defensive line that struggled to get to the quarterback. The secondary was just as lackluster as they only had 10 interceptions to show for it. Overall, the defense just produced 17 turnovers, the sixth worst in the league. The defense wasn’t able to apply pressure on the quarterbacks, couldn’t force any turnovers, and that combo did not win enough games for a playoff appearance.
Key additions: QB Taylor Heinicke, FS Jessie Bates, LB Kaden Elliss, DE Calais Campbell, WR Scotty Miller, LB Bud Dupree, CB Tre Flowers
Key losses: QB Marcus Mariota, CB Casey Hayward Jr., LB Rashaan Evans
Trade additions: CB Jeff Okudah, TE Jonnu Smith
2023 NFL Draft picks
Round 1: RB Bijan Robinson
Round 2: OT Matthew Bergeron
Round 3: DE Zach Harrison
Round 4: CB Clark Phillips III
Round 7: S DeMarcco Hellams
Round 7: G/C Jovaughn Gwyn
Starting with free agency, Atlanta knew the defense needed some upgrades and they got some all over. Campbell, despite his age of 37, will still be a big help for the defensive line. Coming off a 5.5-sack season in 2022, Campbell can still be a menace for offensive lines. Then the secondary got some much-needed help in Bates, Flowers, and Okudah, who could be a steal of a trade if he can stay healthy and improve as a cornerback. They also drafted Harrison to help bring some sort of pass rush to the defensive line.
The offense got some nice help in the offseason as well. First-round pick Bijan Robinson as the new starting running back has already made the Falcons’ strength of the run game even stronger. The offensive line that will block for Robinson got some upgrades as well, drafting Bergeron in the second round helps fix the issues that were at left guard last season. To help shore out the passing game, trading for Smith is good insurance behind Pitts, and Miller is an excellent slot receiver who can make some big catches if need be.
The losses weren’t too bad as losing an older cornerback in Hayward Jr. can be tough to replace, but the biggest change was at quarterback. The team moved on from Mariota and brought in Heinicke as an upgrade at the backup spot and someone who can fill in nicely if Ridder goes down. Overall, the offseason seemed strong for the Falcons and they’re in a much better spot to get over the 7-10 hump.
2023 season thus far (2-0)
- 14th in points scored, 8th in points allowed
- 14th in DVOA — 15th on offense, 14th on defense, 21st on special teams
So far, the Falcons are surprisingly 2-0 this season. Opening up against the Carolina Panthers and rookie quarterback Bryce Young was tougher than expected as the game was tied 10-10 entering the fourth quarter. They were able to capitalize on the rookie’s mistakes by getting two interceptions and holding him to just 146 passing yards and a touchdown. The run game for Carolina was effective, getting 154 yards on 32 carries but they never smelled the endzone.
Going up against Green Bay the following week was a tougher challenge and one that came down to the wire. Kicker Younghoe Koo had to kick a 25-yard field goal with 57 seconds left to take the lead. The defense was able to force four straight incomplete passes to close it out. While the secondary held Packers quarterback Jordan Love to just 151 yards, they allowed three touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was able to keep Green Bay out of the end zone on the ground, holding them to just 84 yards on 21 carries.
The offense for Atlanta has been average through the air (more on that later) with the biggest game by any wide receiver being London against the Packers with six catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. The running game is where Atlanta continues to shine, as they are averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season—seventh-highest in the NFL. The team is still working on their pass rush as well as they only have three sacks this season, with only 0.5 sacks coming from the defensive front.
Key players ruled out: None
Key players to monitor: LB Troy Andersen (concussion protocol), CB Jeff Okudah (foot), RB Cordarrelle Patterson (thigh)
Unlike the Lions, the Falcons don’t have much injury news to talk about. Linebacker Troy Andersen is in concussion protocol and may miss the game, but he missed the game last week so it won’t be something new. Patterson could have played last week if need be, but the team already had Robinson and Allgeier healthy so no need to risk Patterson’s injury getting worse. I expect Patterson to return this week against Detroit.
Okudah is a familiar face unfortunately with the injury report as he suffered a scary foot injury back in August that appeared serious as he was carted off the field. Luckily Okudah returned to the practice field last week and has a chance to play against his former team this week. With the Lions on the schedule, I could see Okudah wanting to play in this game and show the Lions that they made a mistake in trading him away.
Biggest strength: Running Backs
It’s a toss-up between the offensive line and the running back room, but I’ll go with the running backs. While the offensive line is a strong unit, they have already allowed five sacks this season, something the Lions will like to see. What the Lions don’t like to see is a tough running back room. Now while Detroit has held running backs in check so far this season— limiting them to just 107 yards on 36 carries (3.0 YPC)—the Falcons have the deepest running back room Detroit has seen this season.
we really did try to tell ya about Bijan Robinson, folks pic.twitter.com/bPUUyoyhgS— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) September 19, 2023
First is the rookie sensation Robinson. While he had a strong debut—finishing with 56 rushing yards, 27 receiving yards, and a touchdown—he made a bigger splash in Week 2 vs. the Packers. Robinson had four catches for 48 yards and 19 carries for 124 yards on the ground. Robinson is a three-down back who can do it all and someone Detroit will need to focus on when it comes to the ground game.
my God Bijan Robinson is so cold pic.twitter.com/eSjQulWFj8— ⚡️ (@PickedByDerwin) September 10, 2023
The problem is, if you stop Robinson, they have Allgeier behind him who can still be a nuisance for defenses as a big-bodied, physical rusher. Against the Panthers, Allgeier was the lead back with 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns. With these two, and Patterson possibly returning, it’s a three-headed monster and all of them are dangerous not just on the ground, but in the air too.
Biggest weakness: Quarterback
With the defense making some nice changes in the offseason and the offense shoring up some positions, the biggest weakness on this team is at quarterback. Sure Ridder isn’t a terrible quarterback, but Atlanta could do better at the position. So far this season, Ridder is 34-for-50 for 352 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also has 11 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown as well. His dual-threat ability, which was limited in Week 1, showed up more in Week 2 and could be something that gives Detroit problems.
While they have to worry about his legs to a degree, the Lions don’t seem to have to worry about his arm. Ridder has been given more weapons in the passing game with Smith and Miller to help out Pitts and London, along with the three running backs, but the issue could be the person throwing to them.
In short, the Falcons don’t ask too much of Ridder, because their run game is more reliable than the passing game. Against Carolina, Atlanta ran 26 times and threw it 18, while against Green Bay they threw it 32 times and ran it for 45.
Key matchup: Lions defensive line vs. Falcons offensive line
The Lions have issues along their defensive line. While they are doing well in stopping the run, they have yet to sack the quarterback. The line has stashed players in its depth chart and so far it’s been needed with three edge rushers missing some time. Julian Okwara went to IR to start the season, Josh Paschal landed on IR last week, and now James Houston was placed on IR this week. Just two weeks in, and the edge position is starting to get thin.
For who is there, though, they will need to step up big against the Falcons offensive line that has had some mistakes early on this season. Atlanta allowed four sacks in the season opener, but they allowed just one against the Packers last week. Perhaps it was opening week rust, but Detroit needs to find a way to exploit some inconsistencies and make Ridder uncomfortable.
Ridder is a big quarterback at 6-foot-4, so he won’t be easy to take down, but the Lions have let Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith escape pressure and come away clean. This week, it can’t happen again.
Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 3