Lions vs. Falcons Game Ended In Heartbreak, The Lions Shined Against The Defending NFC Champs.
Lions Vs. Falcons
Last week, the Lions impressed on the national level in their Monday night win over the New York Giants. After getting off to a 2-0 start and looking like a vastly improved team in 2017, the Detroit Lions faced their first real Super Bowl contender in the Atlanta Falcons. The Lions vs. Falcons match up was one that was important to gauging how close this team is to being a legitimate contender in the NFL.
This game didn’t end the way that fans wanted it to. In the end, we were all left disappointed. The Lions lost in dramatic fashion to a very good team. The game ended with a ten second runoff, and fans never really got the satisfaction of the last ditch effort to win the game. While the game was heartbreaking, it also showed that this team belongs.
The Atlanta Falcons are the defending NFC champions. This is a team that was in the Super Bowl last year. This is a team that looks every bit as good this year as it did last year. Not only did the Lions hang with them. They gave them a run for their money. After all of the penalties, failed run plays, broken coverage, minor injuries, the Lions were centimeters from beating the team that was in the Super Bowl last year and has a legitimate chance of being in the Super Bowl this year. That is good news for Lions’ fans, even if they don’t want to hear it right now.
This looks like a playoff caliber team. This looks like a team that could win their first playoff game since 1991. The Detroit Lions look like a team that could make a run deep into the playoffs. This team looked that way despite key injuries, some calls that didn’t quite go their way, and some poor early-game play. This game is something to be excited about.
The offense was up and down in this game. There were times when the offense sputtered and failed to produce on prime opportunities. There were times when the offense looked unstoppable. Stafford had some rough patches in the game, but as expected, was at his best when the game was on the line. He finished the game 25 for 45 with 264 yards and a touchdown. He threw some beautiful touch passes, made some big time throws, but he missed some key throws, specifically at the end of the half.
The completion percentage isn’t overly impressive, and Matthew Stafford had some poor throws from time to time, but those numbers are deflated by the shots that he took at the end zone toward the end of the game. Despite the end result, despite the matter of inches that decided the game, Matthew Stafford is still the man that you want leading the final drive of a game.
The offense got very little work overall until the final quarter. The defense had trouble stopping the running game and stopping the Falcons on third down. This contributed to the overall low volume of the Detroit Lions offense. The Falcons have an elite offense and I wouldn’t expect this to be a common problem going forward.
Play calling was a problem in this game. Cooter needs to be better than he has been. The Lions have won games against teams they should beat. This game against the Falcons shows that Cooter has to be more creative in order to take the team to the next level. Running plays need to be less predictable. The pass run distribution has to be less predictable. Jim Bob Cooter needs to get more creative. This game was close enough that, if even one play had gone in the Lions’ favor, the entire outcome could be different. Play calling needs to be better.
The running game struggles continued. Abdullah showed life when the Lions deviated from the dreaded outside zone runs, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a respectable run game. The Lions need to make some changes going forward. They are not going to be able to make a serious run if their running game continues to struggle as it has through three weeks. Abdullah finished with 14 rushes for 47 yards, but did contribute 3 catches for 39 yards in the passing game.
The offensive line held up better in the Lions vs. Falcons match up than he did against the New York Giants. It still wasn’t great, and Stafford alleviated some of the pressure by making plays with his feet, but The Giants have the superior pass rush, but it is still nice to see the offensive line improve after Greg Robinson struggled mightily against the Giants.
Ebron’s drops are back. He dropped back to back passes on key plays in the fourth quarter. He can’t make mistakes like this. The Lions were inches from this game going in the “W” column. Those inches could have been made up by any number of plays, but Ebron’s drops were the most egregious.
Overall, the offense looked adequate. They need to be better, but Stafford did Stafford things when the game was on the line. The hope is that the team can eventually put themselves in a position where he doesn’t have to make the late game heroics. While that wasn’t the case in this game, the effort was admirable.
After a dominant first two weeks, the Detroit Lions’ defense got off to a rough start. Matt Ryan and the Falcons drove down the field on the Lions on the opening drive, converting on multiple third downs. The struggles continued. The Falcons were able to move the ball at will against the Lions’ defense throughout most of the game. The Falcon’s first punt didn’t come until deep into the fourth quarter.
The lone bright spot for the Lions defense in the first half was a spectacular play by Glover Quin on a pick six. With the Lions looking like they could be down at least eleven points going into the second half, Glover Quin gave the team a spark to put the first touchdown on the board for the Lions. After a disappointing statistical year for Quin in 2016, he has come out with a vengeance this year.
The Lions followed up in the second half with two more interceptions by Darius Slay. Matt Ryan hadn’t thrown an interception in over 300 attempts. The Lions intercepted him three times. The defense, while ultimately unimpressive in most ways in this game, continued to come up with big plays. The boom or bust defense that they showed today is not sustainable, but it does show potential. If the defense can get better at fundamentals, and if the offense can produce more than 10 points off three turnovers, they have some very bright days ahead.
The secondary did a nice job keeping Julio Jones in check. He is the best weapon that the Atlanta Falcons have, and the Detroit Lions mostly neutralized him. Taking away a team’s best player is a recipe for winning games. Julio ended with 7 receptions for 91 yards. That isn’t necessarily impressive from a defensive standpoint, but they limited the big plays, and much of that production came on plays that they were playing off and trying to limit the big plays.
The injury to Jarrad Davis was evident in the Lions vs. Falcons game. Linebackers struggled in coverage consistently and gave up easy passes over the middle. Against the run, Nick Bellore was unable to bring the same run stopping force that Jarrad Davis brought in the first two weeks of the NFL season. If Davis isn’t good to go next week, the Lions are going to have to make some adjustments at the linebacker position.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman tore apart the Lions defense rushing for a combined 152 yards and adding 6 receptions for 75 yards in the receiving game. Jarrad Davis would have helped in this area. The Lions will hopefully have him back in the very near future.
Rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin struggled this week. He missed numerous tackles and let routine tackles turn into big plays for the Atlanta Falcons. He has always had an issue with lunging at the ball carrier. That is something that needs to be corrected if he hopes to see further playing time.
DJ Hayden struggled again in week three. He looked overmatched, struggled in coverage, and holding penalties continue to be a problem for him. The Lions have too much depth at cornerback to have Hayden continue to be a liability.
The Detroit struggled on third down on the defensive side of the ball in the Lions vs. Falcons game. The Lions didn’t force a punt until deep into the fourth quarter. While the Falcons ended only 4/9 on third down conversions, many of those failures came later in the game. The defense needs to do a better job getting off the field and putting the ball in Matthew Stafford’s hands.
Special Teams and Other Notes
Matt Prater is good. Really good. Prater started the game with a pair of field goals in the first half, including a beauty from 55 yards out. He followed with two more field goals including a ridiculous 57 yard boomer that helped salvage a drive that ended with an Eric Ebron drop. Relying on Prater as the primary source of offensive scoring is not sustainable, but if there is any kicker to rely on, Prater is that kicker. He continues to be the reliable safety net for the Detroit Lions’ offense. He has made 14 straight field goals from 50 yards or more. That is an NFL record.
Penalties were a serious problem in the Lions vs. Falcons match up. Not only did the Lions commit penalties, but they came at important times, and they were largely unnecessary. Some of the calls were debatable, but unacceptable nonetheless.
TJ Lang was called for unnecessary roughness on a play that was exactly that: unnecessary.
Nevin Lawson failed to get his head around on a sideline pass down the field to Julio Jones and was called for pass interference.
Rick Wagner was called for holding on a screen to Eric Ebron that otherwise would have resulted in a big play for the Lions.
DJ Hayden was called for holding due to bad footwork in coverage.
There were a myriad of calls on the final Lions’ offensive drive, some controversial, but all avoidable. These penalties were a difference in this game.
These are the types of things that kill drives. When drives die, games don’t go well. The Lions need to clean these things up. They weren’t egregious penalties, but they were important ones. Discipline needs to be a focal point going forward.
The Lions got a little banged up in this one. Nothing appeared to be too serious, but Darius Slay, Anthony Zettel, DJ Hayden, Golden Tate all got hurt. Tate and Slay returned to the game. Zettel and Hayden are a little more up in the air. We will have to wait for further news on them.
Week Three: What It Means
For all of the flaws in play calling and performance in this Lions vs. Falcons match up, the Lions performed admirably. This is a really good Atlanta team. There were a lot of things that the Lions need to clean up, but it is week three, and the Lions almost beat the defending NFC champs. Regardless of what it looks like in the standings, this is a win for the Lions. They showed that, despite their flaws and their mistakes, they belong with the best.
These injuries piled up this week. Hopefully the Lions are healthier next week. They look good when they get in their rhythm, and they won’t face too many defenses as electric as the Atlanta Falcons. They hopefully won’t face any team of their caliber without Jarrad Davis. This team looks good. It looks competitive. It’s OK to keep drinking the Kool-Aid.