The Atlanta Falcons, now sitting at an even 3-3 close to halfway through the year, are slated to suit up against a Lions team that has exceeded my wildest expectations. Detroit, though second in their own division behind the undefeated Packers, has looked like a serious playoff contender thus far.
The reason for this sudden success? You can't really point to one thing. The Matt Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection has been on fire recently. They are also healthy for the first time in a while. But perhaps the easiest Lions strength to point out is their defense, and Sunday's deciding factor will without a doubt be how the offense handles Jim "chase after 'em" Schwartz's vaunted defense.
Identity Crisis? Think Again
Firstly, we must consider: who are the Falcons on offense anyways? In essence, we've seen two offenses this season: the run-heavy, 2010 offense and the new "hybrid" offense that incorporates more passing plays.
While the hybrid has delivered mixed results to say the least, the Turner-centric offense has essentially won games against the Eagles and Panthers. In fact, the Falcons are 3-0 in games featuring 20 or more carries by Michael Turner. Clearly, the old ground-and-pound scheme hasn't lost its effectiveness.
The Lions Present A Favorable Matchup
What's more, the Lions defense is currently allowing an average of 129.5 rushing yards per game. While the pass defense (ironically in part because of the good play of ex-Falcon Chris Houston) has been stellar, their ability to stop the run is not that extraordinary.
According to Turner himself, he believes his runner style matches up well against the Lions defense. As with Carolina, he hopes to keep pounding the ball until he breaks off a big run. Though the offensive line has allowed a number of negative rushing plays on the year (19 to be exact), the Falcons will have to remain committed to the run.
The 49ers Have Provided A Blueprint For Success
"But doesn't Turner's success usually depend on his ability to break to the outside?" you might ask. This is where the timely 49ers victory comes into play. Jim Harbaugh's method of attack was genius by simplicity: he ran Frank Gore right at the heart of the Detroit defensive line, taking advantage of Ndamukong Suh's aggressiveness.
Specifically, two big-time plays came on what is known as a halfback wham play. San Francisco would allow Suh to slip into the backfield, only to have their H-back (Delanie Walker in this case) effectively block sue because he doesn't expect it. This frees up offensive linemen and allows them to get downfield and make blocks in the secondary. If both are successful, then voila! You have yourself a nice, long run.
On the other hand, the Falcons have shown favoritism to off tackle runs, most notable the stretch play which basically attempts to create enough space for Turner to break outside the box and and bust off a long run. The drawback is that aggressive defensive linemen (i.e. Suh) can cause big losses on these types of runs, as Brian Price did in Turner's miserable week three performance.
The Falcons Are Fighters
Given all of that evidence, the Falcons should definitely plan to keep Turner's heavy workload regardless if Julio Jones ends up playing or not. You can expect the same kind smashmouth, grind-it-out style of football that was on display at Ford Field last week. For Mike Smith, that's exactly the type of play he wants to see out of his football team.
Finally, coach Schwartz, I'm here to deliver a warning: your players may consider you a "fighter" up there in Michigan, but you're straight-up no match for the likes of Mike Smith. He'll take you down. And if not, well... we can always call Todd Grantham for some sure-fire backup.