Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field

Both teams are off to a 2-0 start

ALLEN PARK — Jim Caldwell trotted out his usual line that this game is the most important because it’s the next.

His approach aside, when the Lions host the Atlanta Falcons — the defending NFC champions — it will be a big test for Detroit.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“Obviously everybody understands who (the Falcons) are. I mean that’s a heck of a team. I mean there’s no doubt about that but I mean for us, every single week there’s an outstanding team that you play with outstanding talent,’’ Caldwell said on Friday. “So, we take them one at a time as they come. This is the biggest game of the year for us because it’s the next one and that’s how we look at it.”

Five things to watch on Sunday vs. the Falcons:

— The Falcons’ high-flying offense is key, but their defense is a strength too. “Extremely fast, physical, they play hard. It’s not an overly complicated scheme, they line up and they play,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They do some things that will make you think and make you work no question. They’ve got really good plays, they’ve got two high end corners, a really good safety, some linebackers that can fly and a defensive line that’s really disruptive, so at every level they’ve got play makers and that’s what makes a good defense and that’s what they are.”

— Ziggy Ansah and the defensive line have proven all critics wrong in the first two games. They’ve pressure quarterbacks and stopped the run. They sacked Eli Manning (who admittedly doesn’t have a strong offensive line) five times. “We don’t have a bunch of name guys, but we got a bunch of guys that work really hard, really good technicians, know how to rush the passer, they run pretty good games when we run our games, and so I think that’s why it all works,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “I think the other thing is we’ve had an opportunity to have a little bit of a—Get in a position where we had a lead, so we’re able to turn guys lose a little bit more. So, that’s been a positive and that’s I think why they’re rushing well.”

— Starting safety Tavon Wilson (shoulder) will not play which will mean more defensive snaps for Miles Killebrew. “Miles I think is just scratching the surface of being a really good football player no matter where you put him, so I don’t worry about that. We just know we like to have him on the field and we’ll continue to use him the way we’ve used him,’’ Austin said.

— The Lions’ run game came to life with 138 rushing yards against the Giants on Monday night. It was a good sign, but you won’t see offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter jumping up and down. “It’s one game. I’m not going to – sort of a small sample size type of thing. You know we had a good game rushing, but there is a lot to clean up,’’ Cooter said. “Like I said, some zero runs, some minus runs I want to clean up. So, we’re far from a finished product in anything that we do. I’m not going to kick my feet up on the desk on any facet of our offense and say, ‘Well we don’t need to work on it. We got it figured out.’ So, I think we’re still really trying to get better. That’s run game, pass game protection. That’s a lot of details within those things. So, we got improvement to make.” Dwayne Washington (quad) won’t play but Zach Zenner will be a good replacement.

— The Lions’ offense can keep any defense guessing. While the Lions are prepared for wide receiver Julio Jones to have a big game, with Detroit it’s a guessing game because Matthew Stafford has so many weapons. “Around here we kind of spread the ball around. Different guys have different games. More catches one game, less catches the next game in the pass game, and sometimes that’s due to sort of the ebb and flow of the defense. And then, for us, it’s a little fun because you know, a couple years back you got Calvin Johnson OK? Well, you get in the red zone, who’s getting doubled? You don’t even think about it. You go, ‘OK, it’s (No.) 81. They’re doubling.’ And then you draw up whatever pass play you want to draw up after that,’’ Cooter said. “It’s a different deal now. Sometimes, it’s Marvin (Jones). Sometimes (Eric) Ebron has a big week or two and they find a way to double him. Sometimes it’s Golden Tate. It’s a bunch of guys. Kenny Golladay if he keeps making plays down the field, he could get some doubles. So, it makes it a little more fun from that perspective. But hopefully all our guys are contributing and winning their individual match ups.”

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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