Ndamukong Suh vs. His own aggressiveness
The apparent turnaround of the Detroit Lion franchise can be credited to many, but most will agree that Ndamukong Suh is the catalyst around which this team is built. The drafting and subsequent success of Suh turned the Detroit defensive line into a strength, and gave the franchise a new attitude going forward. Thus far this season Suh has not lived up to expectations, which to be fair, are quite lofty after an impressive rookie campaign. Much of this can be attributed to teams scheming against him, and often double teaming him in passing situations, but the week five loss to San Francisco exposed a major liability in the second year defensive tackle.
It has often been stated that Suh’s aggressive style would end up hurting his team more than helping, and that was never more evident than last Sunday. On both of Frank Gore’s backbreaking runs, of 47 and 55 yards, the 49ers offensive line didn’t bother to touch Suh. Instead, they let his over aggressive and often selfish need to sack the quarterback do most of the work for him. Suh exploded through the offensive line untouched, and out of control, only to be trapped by reserve tight end Delaney Walker, leaving a gaping running lane exposed where Suh should have been.
The Atlanta Falcons roll into Ford with largely the same game plan as San Francisco. Attack the league’s 27th ranked run defense, and do it by taking advantage of Ndamukong Suh’s over penetration. If Suh can’t corral his aggressiveness and learn to play the run, the Lions will be in for another long afternoon, as Michael Turner will grind away even more effectively than Frank Gore. Even if the Pro Bowl defender doesn’t amass a wealth of tackles, he must absorb blocks by occupying offensive linemen. If Suh continues to play out of control, the Falcon offensive line can scheme around him, and make life extremely difficult for Detroit Linebackers.
Falcon receivers vs. Lion cornerbacks
With the Lions giving up an embarrassing 5.2 yards per carry on the ground, Gunther Cunningham knows that Falcon offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is intent on getting Michael Turner off to a quick start. In an effort to stop the hemorrhaging, Cunningham will commit extra players to the box, such as safeties Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey. This will leave isolated matchups on the outside of the field between Falcon receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones (if healthy), and Lions’ cornerbacks Chris Houston and Eric Wright. The Detroit pass defense has been impressive to this point (ranked 12th), even with the lack of an effective pass rush for much of the season. This will be the first Lion opponent that boasts an impressive running game, an effective quarterback, and an elite receiver. Detroit will need to be sound in on all levels defensively in order to be successful against this Falcon offense.
Chris Houston is following a somewhat unimpressive 2010 season with a 2011 campaign in which he has shown flashes of being a shut down corner. His struggles this season have been against big receivers, such as Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys. In facing his old team, Houston will be matched up against the 6-foot tall, 211 pound Roddy White. Houston and Wright will need to step up and be physical throughout this contest both in run support, as well as disrupting the routes of White and Jones.
In order to slow down the Falcon offense the Lions will need to show a concerted team effort. If there is a breakdown at the line of scrimmage, the Falcons will simply unleash Michael Turner and grind the Lions to a pulp. If there is a breakdown at the second level, or in the secondary, the Falcons will take advantage of single coverage for big plays in the passing game. Disciplined run defense is the number one necessity for a Lion victory, but when facing a quarterback as skilled as Matt Ryan, stopping the run may not be enough to stop the Falcon offense.
Other matchups to watch
The Atlanta Falcons are a subpar defensive football team against the pass, and the Detroit Lions are a subpar rushing offense. These weaknesses lead to an inevitable showdown between the Lion passing game and the Falcon pass defense. San Francisco pressured Matthew Stafford early last Sunday, and even managed to get into the young star’s head, causing him to leave the pocket prematurely on several occasions, and make inaccurate throws on the run. If Atlanta can get to Stafford early, look for the same effect on the Lion quarterback.
Another interesting storyline this Sunday will be the Lions’ demeanor and attitude following their first loss of the season. With the way things played out last week, between Jim Harbaugh proving that he is bush league, and 49er offensive tackle Anthony Davis trash talking on Twitter (despite being ranked as the 71st best tackle in the league, which would make him worse than every starter and seven reserves), the Lions should have enough anger and frustration pent up to come out strong the Sunday. The question is will their emotions lead to a dominant victory, or another sloppy game full of mental errors.