What a way to silence the critics.
After an underwhelming Week 2 loss, the Detroit Lions were in dire need of a rebound to prove they were a true threat for the NFC crown. Shutting down the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons is certainly a way to do it, and the Lions surprisingly did it on the back of the defense. No victory is perfect, however, and the Lions have some serious concerns mounting on the injury front.
That and more in our takeaways:
The Sam LaPorta Game
The start to Sam LaPorta’s career has been nothing short of impressive—if fact, it has been historic:
The list of @NFL TEs to produce 5+ receptions in each of their first three-career games:— Detroit Lions PR (@LionsPR) September 24, 2023
- @Lions TE @Samlaporta
His three-game streak of 5+ receptions ties for the second-longest by a TE in franchise history.#OnePride pic.twitter.com/gEFok8lRpK
LaPorta was the co-star with Amon-Ra St. Brown on offense, totaling eight catches for 84 yards (on 11 targets) plus his first-career touchdown grab on a 45-yard bomb. LaPorta is quickly becoming an integral part of the Lions offense. That isn’t factoring in his blocking either, which, while still a work in progress, is further along that many expected for the rookie.
Sacks are back
In the Lions’ first two games, their lone sack came courtesy of Alex Anzalone on a lengthy backpedaling scramble by Geno Smith. The pass rush was a significant issue, both in terms of pressure and production. Aside from Aidan Hutchinson, no other pass rusher was stepping up.
How about four sacks in the first half?
Perhaps it was a schematic change, or perhaps it was playing up to their potential, but the Lions were living in the Falcons’ backfield on Sunday. Best yet, the sacks came from non-Hutchinson players. Benito Jones was responsible for the first sack by a Lions defensive lineman this season. On the very next play, Derrick Barnes got home. Alim McNeill would add one of his own, and Jack Campbell secured the first sack of his career on the final play of the first half. Charles Harris and Aidan Hutchinson added three second half sacks as well to bring the daily total to seven, plus a game-sealing forced fumble.
Offensive tackles falling like flies
Already missing Taylor Decker and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Lions’ tackle depth got even worse on Sunday. Matt Nelson left the game early with an ankle injury, forcing practice squad call-up and recent signee Dan Skipper to slot in at right tackle. Yet that experiment hardly lasted long, for Skipper himself left with a hamstring injury. That forced rookie Colby Sorsdal—who has largely been repping at guard—to fill in. This offensive line shuffle led to...
Offensive line looking offensive
The Lions had an elite offensive line on paper entering the season, but things are going downhill quickly thanks to injuries. Jared Goff was being battered throughout the game, and while the Falcons exited the game without a sack, they added nine quarterback hits—Goff will surely have an ice bath in his future. The Lions will need to shore up their protection in the coming weeks.
Much-needed defensive rebound
After being gutted by the Seattle Seahawks last week, the Lions defense and secondary was in particular needed a bounce back.
The Desmond Ridder-led Falcons offense was the cure-all they needed. When Ridder wasn’t overshooting his targets, the Lions defense was stymieing the Falcons in every facet. As mentioned, the pass rush showed up early and often. Brian Branch had a Rookie of the Year-caliber outing, with an absurd three tackles for loss, two passes defended, and 11 tackles. The Falcons’ dangerous run game featuring top-10 pick Bijan Robinson was held to just 44 yards on 20 carries. The passing game was kept in check as well, with Ridder barely topping 200 yards (201, to be exact) and Kyle Pitts leading the way with just 41 yards.
It was a great game for the linebackers in particular, having been picked on heavily last week. Barnes and Campbell had their aforementioned sacks, while Anzalone had some critical stops. Robinson in particular is a dual threat back, so credit the linebackers (and everyone on defense) for making his day tough.
A Jack Fox punting masterclass
I rarely talk about the punter, especially in a win, but Jack Fox’s impact on the game cannot be understated. Fox had six punts on the day, and multiple of them were booming kicks that flipped the field position. For example, the first Lions drive of the day ended in a fourth down from the Lions 20. After Fox’s punt and an Atlanta penalty, the Falcons were starting from their own 12.
Even when the Lions offense stalls, there is at least the relief of knowing that Fox can negate a lengthy field.
John’s Turning Point: Sam LaPorta’s 45-yard touchdown
I want to add a new segment to Takeaways and highlight a key turning point in the game. Perhaps it was a big play that changed the tide of the game. Perhaps there was a play or player that flew under the radar that had a significant impact down the road.
This week’s edition is an obvious one:
After trading punts and field goals to start the game, the Lions needed a kickstart to their offense, and they found it thanks to Sam LaPorta and a busted Falcons secondary. LaPorta’s first career touchdown might go down as his easiest when all’s said and done. The Lions wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter, highlighting how important this score was. If the Falcons were down 13-3 instead of 20-3, they might not have settled for a field goal late in the fourth quarter. Had they converted, it would have made for a far more nervous end to the game.