Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/22/11

            This Sunday the Atlanta Falcons face a huge road challenge as they make the journey north to take on the 5-1 Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The Falcons, currently 3-3 after a 31-17 victory over the Panthers last week, have looked dispondent in several of their games so far and are desperate to show the rest of the league that last season’s success was no fluke, and a win over the Lions, who lost for the first time last week against the scrappy San Francisco 49ers, would do just that. The Falcons will have their hand full as they try and defeat a Lions squad highlighted by quarterback Matthew Stafford (1,729 passing yards with 15 TDs and only 4 INTs) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (36 receptions for 564 yards and 9 touchdowns). Johnson, known by his fans as “Megatron”, takes playing football like clockwork, and it will take machine-like accuracy by Atlant’s suspect defense in order to shut him down.

             For the Atlanta Falcons offense to get the job done against Detroit, they have to get in a rhythm throwing the ball as early on as possible. This Lions’ defense is nothing like it has been over the last ten years, as they have shown the NFL this year that they are for real, especially in their play against the pass. Detroit’s 205.5 yards allowed through the air per game is good enough for 8th in the entire league, notably ahead of the fierce Baltimore Ravens. Even though the 49ers eeked out a 25-19 win last week over the Lions, it wasn’t due to a letdown by the Detroit pass defense, as they allowed Alex Smith to throw for just 125 yards with only one touchdown (they also picked him off once in the game). It’s clear that the Lions can stop some of the best passing teams from doing what they do best, which means that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense-which will probably be without Julio Jones for the second straight week-will have to worked even harder to get the job done.

          In order for the Falcons defense to slow the Lions offense down, they must force Stafford to make irratic throws. As you can see in the numbers he has posted so far, Stafford is having a career year, and the team’s performance clearly stems from this. The main reason for Stafford’s success in 2011 is found in his propensity to avoid turnovers, something that he struggled to do in his first two seasons (combined for 26 interceptions/fumbles compared to just 19 touchdowns). The Atlanta Falcons passing defense is downright terrible this season (27th in the NFL in passing yards per game with 283), so my suggestion is that they rely heavily on blitzing Stafford and hope that they can force him to make mistakes that he has avoided so far in 2011.

           Game Prediction: If I was to say going into this game that one of the teams held a 5-1 record and the other sat at .500, the majority of experts before the season would have said that it would have been the Dirty Birds holding the almost-unbeaten mark. However, the Detroit Lions are for real, and Sunday’s game provides the feeling of a game between a squad that feels comfortable in both the race for their division and the wild card and a team that is fighting to keep the bandwagoners from jumping somewhere else. This game will be fierce battle throughout, as Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan answer each other in the passing game time and time again. The key play in this game comes with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter with the Lions down 3. As the team looks to re-take the lead, Stafford hits Calvin Johnson for what looks like a 28 yard go-ahead touchdown, but a holding penalty negates the score. On the very next play, Maurice Morris, starting in place of the injured Jahvid Best, bobbles a handoff from Stafford, and the ball hits the ground. That’s when Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards, who has been criticized by many fans due to his lackluster numbers so far this year, recovers the fumble, effectively giving Atlanta a huge win and a chance to jump right back into the hunt for the playoffs.

Edwards may box a little, but Falcons fans shouldn't worry that it's affecting his game

Game Stats

Passing: Matt Ryan is called upon often in this one and he makes the most of his chances, completing 23 passes on 36 attempts for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns with only 1 interception.
Rushing:
Michael Turner quietly has a nice game on the ground for the Falcons, taking 18 carries for 111 yards and 0 touchdowns.
Receiving
: Harry Douglas comes up big in this one, making 7 receptions for 67 yards and 1 touchdown.   

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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