Lions Travel to London, Search to Keep NFC North Control

The Detroit Lions will meet the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow for the 36th time in franchise history, but uniquely for the first time in neither Detroit nor Atlanta. The Lions are instead in London this week as part of the NFL’s 2014 International Series campaign, taking them to 90,000 person capacity Wembley Stadium.

The game marks the Lions’ first foray to England and also the team’s second consecutive game against an NFC South opponent. For Detroit, which enters the game 5-2 following an epic comeback against New Orleans last week, a date with the Falcons will be integral to the Lions’ slim control of the NFC North. Fortunately for the Lions, Atlanta comes into the game at 2-5 and by and large in the midst of a disappointing season. But more specifically the Lions travel to London with a viable chance to do something they’ve yet to do this year: dominate an opponent on both sides of the ball. Starting on offense, where the Lions have been up and down, the Falcons should offer the easiest challenge yet this season. Atlanta is 30th in the league for points conceded per game, 30th in total defense, 27th in rush defense, 29th in pass defense, and 23rd on defensive third down efficiency. QB Matthew Stafford ranks 6th in the NFL currently with 1,891 yards but tied for just 18th in the league with just 9 touchdowns. Subsequently, WR Golden Tate is currently 4th in the NFL with 48 receptions and 6th with 649 yards but is tied for just 53rd in the NFL with 2 touchdowns. For both of these players (and a slow rush attack), a meeting with the Falcons and WR Calvin Johnson’s decent chance at playing will be a major chance to not only pump up their stat sheets but also to earn major credibility.

Like the Lions, the Falcons’ offense is stacked with some of the most talent in the NFL. QB Matt Ryan is having a fine year, 4th in the NFL with 2,078 yards and completing 64% of his passes. Ryan also boasts one of the most talented receiving duos in the NFL between Julio Jones and Roddy White –who despite injuries have a better 2014 collective resume than Tate and Johnson.  Jones currently ranks slightly higher than Tate by most receiving accounts, with 49 catches for 676 yards albeit just three touchdowns. In total, Atlanta’s offense is 7th in the NFL, but unfortunately for the Falcons many of their offensive achievements have only been facile at best. Ryan has also been sacked 15 times, which is 8th most in the NFL. And while the Falcons have a competent passing game, the team is 23rd in the NFL in rushing offense and hangs in the middle of the pack at 16th on third down efficiency. More importantly, the Falcons have a proclivity to give the ball away as the team’s offense has turned the ball over 13 times this year, ranked 25th total in the league. For Detroit, a matchup with any inconsistent offense is not only exciting but also advantageous.

The story has been the same all year: the Lions will always have the upper hand defensively. Now halfway through the season, Detroit is 1st in total defense still, allowing just 290 yards per game. The Lions are 2nd in points allowed per game, 2nd in rush defense, 7th in pass defense, 2nd in third down efficiency, 3rd in red zone efficiency, and 11th in defensive takeaways. For maybe the first time since Week 1, the Lions look primed to potentially thump their opponent. Yet big margin or little margin, the key for Detroit will to simply leave London with a vital midseason victory to stay afloat in the NFC North.

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Game Information

Kickoff: 9:30 a.m. ET

Stadium: Wembley Stadium (90,000 capacity)

Television: FOX

Television Broadcasting Team: Thom Brennaman (Play-By-Play); Troy Aikman (Color); Charissa Thompson (Sideline)

Detroit Radio: 97.1 The Ticket WXYT-FM

Radio Broadcasting Team: Dan Miller (Play-By-Play); Jim Brandstatter (Color); Tony Ortiz (Sideline)

Player Notes

The injury count has gradually subsided in recent weeks for Detroit, which comes as good news at this juncture in the season. However, while the injury total has gone down, dings and bangs to Detroit’s offensive skill positions have suddenly built up. Unsurprisingly, TE Joseph Fauria didn’t practice all week because of his perpetual ankle injury, meaning that he has been ruled out for the game. However, TE Eric Ebron is also out now too because of a hamstring injury sustained last week and didn’t practice all week. Rounding out the tight end crisis is Brandon Pettigrew, who with a foot injury also didn’t practice this week either and is doubtful at best. Add in RB Reggie Bush who had limited practice on Wednesday and then sat the rest of the week because of his ankle injury, and another doubtful offensive weapon remains on the list.

If the Lions have a primary concern against the Falcons, it will be their paucity of offensive weapons. Granted the Lions haven’t always had the most effective or present weapons this season, but this week is truly the first time that multiple players just simply won’t play at all. As noted, Calvin Johnson had limited practice all week on his bum ankle and is questionable along with T LaAdrian Waddle (concussion), but if the Lions get behind early against the Falcons, it could be difficult to adequately orchestrate a comeback with so few weapons suited up. The pressure will once again naturally defer to Tate and RB Joique Bell, but will also force the defense to potentially once again compensate for a struggling offense.

Historical Matchup

Detroit vs. Atlanta Regular Season Record: 23-12

Last Meeting: 12/22/2012; Detroit 18 – Atlanta 31 in Detroit

Record in Detroit: 15-6

Record in Atlanta: 8-6

Final Game Notes

The Lions are currently riding a two game win streak, meaning a competition with Atlanta will be vital for down the stretch. The team’s four of last five games will be against divisional opponents, while tomorrow marks a five week streak that features a trip to Europe, the team’s bye week followed by games against Miami, Arizona, and New England; the latter two on the road. For the Lions, this really is the midpoint of a season that has quietly gone well. The story of the year has undoubtedly been spectacular defense, and for good reason. The offense showed signs of life last week and now has some momentum to ride into London on. The challenge tomorrow will be to finally show real, competent balance on both sides of the ball and make plays with a litany of injured offensive players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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