With just two weeks before the regular season ends, the Atlanta Falcons take their 12-2 record to Ford Field this Saturday as they take on the 4-10 Lions. Despite the differences in winning percentage this season, if Detroit can come up with a win, it shouldn’t be considered an upset.
Why not? This is one case where statistics may tell a better picture than winning percentage alone. Eight of Detroit’s ten losses were decided by one score or less, meaning this team is rarely out of a game.
The Lions need to thank its offense for putting up such impressive numbers, especially through the air. Detroit’s aerial attack averages 302 yards each game, the best in the league. While the running game isn’t nearly as prolific averaging about 104 yards per game (the tenth worst in the league) it hasn’t really mattered. Detroit’s 406.5 yards of total offense is second only to the New England Patriots.
Who exactly are these players putting up such ridiculous numbers through the air? Anyone who paid attention to college football in the state of Georgia over the past decade will recognize the Lions two top offensive players: former University of Georgia quarterback quarterback Matthew Stafford and former Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
“On the offensive side, they’ve got arguably one of the best wide receivers that’s going to create issues,” Coach Smith said earlier this week. “Their quarterback has a very strong arm and can fling it around the field.”
Just how good is this passing duo? Stafford currently has the fourth most passing yards in the league with 4,252 and Megatron’s 1,667 receiving yards not only leads the NFL, but is less than 200 receiving yards away from breaking Jerry Rice’s single season record of 1,848. Johnson averages nearly 120 passing yards per game. If he keeps that up, he’ll finish the season with 1,905. The only reason NFL fans are talking more about Adrian Peterson’s attempt to break the single season rushing record is that Johnson has only scored five touchdowns in the season.
What does this mean for the Falcons? While it appears to be possible to shut down Megatron, Asante Samuel and the rest of the Atlanta secondary will have to figure out ways to limit Johnson’s touches. The question remains, which one of the Falcons defensive players will earn the title of “Optimus Prime”?
While Ndamukong Suh is in the trenches for Detroit, the defense has been the Achilles Heel of the team. Giving up more than 27 points per game is the fifth most in the league. Even with the duo of Stafford and Johnson, the Lions only average about 24 points a game.
For Atlanta’s offense, the first objective is to keep Matt Ryan protected from Suh. One of the easier ways to do this is to establish the run early in the game. While Turner has consistently been underperforming this season, giving him the ball to soften up Suh might be a key factor in the game. Detroit gives up almost 120 yards on the ground each game while Atlanta’s offense averages 125 yards.
Stafford may be in the top five quarterbacks of the league in passing yards, but not scoring. Stafford has just 17 passing touchdowns while Matt Ryan, who has the fifth most passing yards with 4,202, also has the fifth most passing touchdowns with 27.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.