It seems like only last October Atlanta walloped the Lions in Detroit. While the box score was only 23-16 Atlanta easily outperformed a powerful NFC North opponent. The most memorable part was Roddy White and Todd McClure claiming Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril taunted our quarterback after he was briefly injured.
Anyways, Atlanta is not playing the red hot 5-1 Lions. Atlanta is playing the underachieving 4-10 Lions who are coming off a loss to the Cardinals. The Arizona Cardinals. Man, Detroit is struggling except when it comes to chucking the ball at Calvin Johnson.
Does Atlanta need any Christmas (or Hanukkah/Kwanza) type miracle to win tonight? Check out thre match-ups that will determine the game, after the jump.
1. Slow down the best wide receiver in the league. Every article written about the Lions since 2008 has included Calvin Johnson and this one will not disappoint. Johnson is averaging nearly 140 yards in the last four games, a monsterous feat on his way to breaking Jerry Rice's receiving record. However, as all Johnson fantasy football owners know, the endzone has been his kryptonite (Julio Jones, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez all have more touchdowns by a fair margin).
Johnson deserves more than an added safety rolling his way. He is talented enough to demand attention form a starting corner and either Thomas DeCoud or Robert McClain in bracket coverage. That should slow down Johnson but I doubt any team can shut him down. The problem is their starting tight end is doubtful and they have no legitimate #2 wide receiver. Atlanta needs to take down the only sure thing in the Lions offense and make Detroit beat us outside of Megatron.
2. Attack Detroit's secondary. This one should be easy as passing has been Atlanta's strength. Detroit is just below average in sacks while being bottom five defending against those deeeeeep 40 yard passes. For the most part, Detroit is an average defense with an overrated defensive line and a consistently poor secondary. Free safety Louis Delmas is questionable and the only constant in pass coverage is former Falcon Chris Houston. Detroit let go of Aaron Berry in the offseason after his parking lot hijinks and have yet to find a competent replacement.
This one is so easy I almost feel like I should have picked a better matchup. The Falcons offensive line is finally gelling and Julio Jones is just unfair against most corner backs. In Madden, Jones would be available only through a cheat code. Atlanta has a chance to overwhelm this weak Detroit secondary and move around White, Gonzo and Jones and just take advantage of the matchup.
3. Overwhelm the Lions defensive line. I called their line overrated, and I stand by that, but even with a dirty/inconsistent/mediocre Ndamukong Suh, it is still a front four with Ndamukong Suh. Even on another disappointing year Suh has 6.5 sacks from the DT position. He has Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril as bookends, combining for 13 sacks. However, their (arguably) best player the last month, Nick Fairly, was just put on injured reserve. This is a defensive line that was struggling to be much above average prior to that injury.
The Falcons offensive line is finally in midseason form, with Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo bookending the finally excelling Peter Konz. This would be a great time for a statement game. An improving Falcons OL could manhandle a struggling Lions DL and easily move the ball against their poor secondary.
Simply put, this is a game where Atlanta can and should easily outplay their competitor. The talent clearly favors the Falcons and we only need to see the effort tonight, specifically in these three matchups, to see Atlanta move on to their 13th win.
Get more great Atlanta Falcons news and analysis over at The Grits Blitz.