Falcons vs. Lions: Key Matchups in Saturday Showdown

Aidan ReynoldsContributor IIIDecember 21, 2012

Michael Turner got hard yards against the Giants last week.
Michael Turner got hard yards against the Giants last week.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Fresh from a mauling of the Super Bowl champions, the Atlanta Falcons will be full of confidence going into Saturday's game with the Detroit Lions.

The Lions themselves have seriously underachieved after last year's success, but Ford Field will be filled with a juiced-up Saturday crowd looking to get their team moving again.

As with any game, there are certain matchups that will decide the outcome.


Michael Turner vs. Lions Defense

As B/R Columnist Scott Bischoff noted, it's going to take more than one player to bring Turner down.

Against the Giants, the running back looked to be returning to something like his old self. He scored on the opening drive of the game and looked determined throughout, breaking tackles and being decisive with his runs.

The fact that he amassed 56 yards doesn't tell the whole story. The committee approach to the Falcons ground game has started to give Turner purpose—against the Giants it looked like each carry meant something to him, as if each one could be his last in the NFL.

The touchdown last week was the fifth game in a row where Turner has found his way to the end zone. To stop him, the Lions will have to stop him early. He's proved time and time again that he's most dangerous when he has momentum.


Calvin Johnson vs. Falcons Secondary

Calvin Johnson, another player who seems unstoppable by a lone human, is knocking on the door of Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards.

Johnson is currently sitting on 1,667 yards from 106 receptions for the season. He needs 1,849 for the record, but that won't be the focus of either Johnson or the Falcons this weekend.

Johnson can pick any secondary apart, so the Falcons cannot expect to shut him down completely.

If the Falcons are to win the game, they need to keep Johnson quiet. This doesn't have to be via double-coverage, although this was ably demonstrated last week by the Arizona Cardinals in their 38-10 win.

Pressuring Matthew Stafford is always going to be a tactic that reaps rewards. Stafford has struggled to replicate last season's incredible achievements and instead has suffered with a depleted supporting cast and a tendency to turn the ball over.

Stafford threw three picks against the Cardinals that resulted in two Arizona touchdowns. If Atlanta can pile the pressure on Stafford and refuse to let him settle into a rhythm, Johnson's opportunities will diminish.


Lions vs. Injury

The Lions have suffered more than most this year and have eight players out, who between them account for 43 NFL starts, via FoxSportsDetroit.com.

In order to overcome the Falcons, it's not an exaggeration to say that everything has to go right.

Stafford needs to find receivers early, be given a clean pocket from which to throw, and the receivers need to catch everything that comes their way. The defense needs to make plays and take heart from their safety, Louis Delmas, who has missed eight games after knee surgery yet still suits up every week.

Continuity is important for an offense. When a team gets into an offensive rhythm, things seem to flow easier and points almost accumulate of their own accord.

The Lions have been denied that rhythm, but have no choice but to work through it. Last week's game was incredibly disappointing, but up to then the team has been in every game they've played.

Their 4-10 record is indicative of the way those games have fallen this season. The momentum is with the Falcons right now, playing for home-field advantage in the postseason.

The Lions are playing for pride. Sometimes that's all it takes to get a team motivated.