By Matthew Asher
With the number one NFC Playoff seed nearly within the hands of the Falcons, the team needs to remember that there are still two regular season games left, which means they should not take their next opponent, the 4-10 Detroit Lions, lightly.
At this point in the season, the Lions are playing for pride. Both of Atlanta’s losses this season have also come against teams out of contention for the Playoffs. Following the 34-0 shutout of the Giants, this game has the definite makings of a Trap Game for Atlanta.
Coach Mike Smith knows the Lions are not a team to be taken lightly. “This is a very good football team. Their record is not indicative of the type of team they are,” Smitty said. “Eight of their ten losses have been by less than one score, so they’ve played some very close games and have not been able to get the outcome that they wanted.”
With the game being played on Saturday instead of Sunday, both the Falcons and Lions will be on a slightly reduced turnaround, meaning less time to recover from any nagging injuries. While Atlanta didn’t release an injury report following Tuesday’s practice, safety William Moore didn’t participate in the team’s practice, but he was able to run on the sidelines.
The biggest problem with playing a team this late in the season without a Playoff berth up for grabs is that those teams often play very fast and loose, simply because one more loss or win won’t affect a team’s standings. Atlanta needs to watch out on both sides of the ball.
“On the offensive side, they’ve got arguably one of the best wide receivers that’s going to create issues,” Smitty said. “Their quarterback has a very strong arm and can fling it around the field.”
Smitty of course is referring to former University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and former Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. The big story of this game will be if Megatron gets closer to eclipsing Jerry Rice’s NFL single season record of most receiving yards.
On defense, the big worry for Atlanta will be containing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Last Thanksgiving Suh began earning the reputation of being one of the dirtiest players in the NFL following what can only be described as a curb stomp kick on Evan Dietrich-Smith. One year later on Thanksgiving again, Suh was involved in what appeared to be an intentional kick to the groin of Texans quarterback, and former Falcon backup, Matt Schaub.
Matt Ryan had nothing but praise for Suh’s playing style after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s got great size, great strength. He’s quick off the ball. He’s a really good pass rusher,” Ryan said. “One of the best pass rushers for an interior guy I think in the League, and a guy that plays to the whistle and is relentless. He’s certainly someone that you have to account for.”
However, when asked about Suh’s dirty reputation, Ryan appeared to balk at the question. “It’s not something I think about,” Ryan said. “The things that concern me are the way he plays the pass and the way he plays the run. That’s it. We need to focus on that.”
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.