The Falcons offense will be walking into Week 7 as the NFL’s second-best passing offense. While the unit has hit a rough patch as of late, their spike in performance against Minnesota may supply the confidence they need to take on the Lions.
Matt vs Matt showdown
Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford have faced off four times in their career, dating back to the 2011 season. Ryan has bested the former University of Georgia quarterback overall, winning three of their four matchups.
In those four games, Ryan has averaged 254 passing yards with a 69.9% completion rate, and nine touchdowns. Stafford has had less success against the Falcons. He has averaged 304 passing yards with a 56.1% completion rate, and four touchdowns.
Ryan has also had better numbers thus far in 2020. His 1,843 passing yards in 2020 trumps that of Stafford’s 1,240. The Lions have played one less game, but Ryan still wins head-to-head with his 307 passing yards per game compared to Stafford’s 248.
Both quarterbacks have also had stretches without their number one target. Julio Jones has missed 2.5 games with a hamstring injury. Kenny Golladay has missed two games with a hamstring issue of his own. Both receivers are coming off big performances with Jones posting 137 yards on eight receptions and Golladay posting 105 yards on four receptions in Week 6.
Even though Ryan has the better weapons around him, Stafford will have the more favorable matchup opposite the Falcons defense. The Falcons pass defense enters Week 7 as the 31st-ranked unit in the league, allowing over 2,000 yards passing in total through the first six games. They have also let up 18 passing touchdowns and have only five interceptions.
Golladay has big-play potential that is likely to be on display against the Falcons. Rookie receiver Justin Jefferson was able to average 18 yards per catch on nine receptions against the Falcons this past Sunday.
On the flip side, the Lions pass defense has allowed 234 yards per game. That’s good for fourth in the league. They have also allowed just a 61% completion rate. That is well under Matt Ryan’s 65.2% – a stat which is 1.6% above his expected completion rate.
Let’s also not forget Ryan is coming off a Player of the Week award with his 371 yards, 75% completion rate, and four touchdowns against Minnesota.
Falcons have a successful ground game
The biggest detriment to this Falcons offense is the lack of a balanced and effective run game. Against Minnesota, there seemed to be a nice balance with 33 rush attempts to 40 pass attempts. However, with those 33 attempts, the Falcons failed to break the 100-yard mark.
Todd Gurley only accounted for 47 yards on his 20 carries. Backup Brian Hill used his 10 carries to total 28 yards. Ryan added four carries for eight yards. The Falcons will need Gurley and Hill to be more effective to open up the aerial attack.
This may come true as the Lions allow 4.9 yards per carry and surrendered the most rush yards in the league through the first four weeks. This was only alleviated by the Jaguars running for a measly 44 yards on them last week. Against a similarly-rated rush defense in Carolina, Gurley ran for over 100 yards and one score. In addition, Hill averaged 6.5 yards per carry versus the Panthers.
Jones to join the 125 Club
In Week 6, Jones had his 34th career game in which he posted 125 or more yards receiving. Minnesota had no answer, as Jones torched their defense for 137 yards and two touchdowns. One more game of 125-plus and Julio will be tied with Randy Moss for second all-time.
With former Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant likely out due to an aggravated hamstring injury, Jones could be matched up with rookie Jeff Okudah. While Okudah has had a decent start to his NFL career, it’s a very tall ask for any cornerback to cover Jones.
It’ll be near impossible for Jones to eclipse Jerry Rice‘s 49 career games over 125 yards. However, Jones did eclipse 10,000 yards faster than Rice, so it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Falcons have a comedown game
It was kind of expected that the Falcons would have such a huge game after the team fired Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. There almost always seems to be an uptick in performance the week after an HC firing. That’s then almost always met with a crash back down to Earth shortly after.
The Falcons still hope to make a remarkable playoff run, but a loss in Week 7 could be what kills any playoff hopes that are simmering right now. 1-5 teams have a 1.9% chance of making the playoffs. It will rise to 4.8% if they can win on Sunday.
It’s difficult to predict a game in which the two teams involved are notorious for blowing leads. Just like how the Bears rallied from 16 points down against Atlanta in Week 3, the same Bears team rallied from 16 points down against Detroit in Week 1. It’s safe to say no lead will be safe in this game. Hopefully, Raheem Morris can keep the Falcons foot on the pedal the entire game.