Do Da Dirty Bird: Previewing Preseason Game One, Falcons @ Lions
Was it not delicious?
I'm referring, of course, to the brief taste of football we got this past Sunday night, when the annual Hall of Fame Game was played. Just remembering T.O.'s two receptions has me licking my lips...
You can't fool me, anyway. I know you'll lap up any pigskin action at this point, just like me. It's been so long!
Hence my unreasonable excitement for this Saturday's clash of my Dirty Birds and the mighty Detroit Lions. With no further ado, the breakdown.
Detroit Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
Let's begin with the Lions' most hapless unit and Atlanta's unit that has the most to prove.
I won't beat around the bush: Kevin Smith will never be a top-20 NFL running back. He's capable of taking a decent load, but that's about it; his breakaway speed is lacking. Then again, that could just be because the Lions' O-line is so pathetic.
And second back Maurice Morris? It's just more of the same: tough guy, no real physical tools lending him to the position. Shouldn't a complement to a workhorse be someone more electric?
Of course, the Falcons' defensive ends (referring to John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson here) are pretty one-dimensional pass-rushers even for their position, and 2009 first-rounder Peria Jerry has been accused of being downright stinky against the run.
Note I don't mention any linebackers in this conversation. That's because (you guessed it) Lions halfbacks will be getting to the second level about as often as head coach Jim Schwartz gets a Gatorade shower.
This is preseason, so I bet defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder keeps Jerry and fellow DT Trey Lewis on the field in rushing situations for learning purposes. In my mind, Jonathan Babineaux (the last important tackle on the roster) has proved himself against the run.
I'll be keeping my eyes open for Aaron Brown (Detroit's sixth rounder this year) and Lawrence Sidbury (a DE we got in the fourth round this April); you should, too.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Detroit Rush Defense
I feel almost mean analyzing the ground games back-to-back, but the truth of the matter is this is where Detroit got battered the most last season, and it's where they'll get stung the worst this year.
Michael Turner will see a few carries, and if he puts in a 60 percent effort, he'll get to the second level. Grady Jackson and Chuck Darby are old with a capital "O," and guys like Andre Fluellen, Landon Cohen, and rookie Sammie Lee Hill who rotate in after them will get torched should they even see the Burner.
Heck, they might want some heat-protective gear when they see Jerious Norwood, for that matter. Detroit is better in their 'backing corps, though that's only if they play starters Ernie Sims and Julian Peterson much longer than is customary. See, their backups are two rookies and Alex Lewis (who?).
I'll bet Thomas Brown gets some carries and even breaks out for a 12- or 13-yard run.
That's just how this Lions team is, ahem, "constructed."
Detroit Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
Finally, I can be just a tad bit more positive about the opponent.
We don't know for sure who the Detroit starter is, and for that reason, we'll see a lot of both candidates. Well, "a lot" meaning those two will take the majority of the snaps, but it's not like the Lions' D is going to keep them on the field that much...but I digress.
Whether it's Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford, I think things are actually looking all right for the quarterback position of last year's unvictorious squad. Sure, it'll be Staff's first-ever pro attempts, but there's obviously something to the boy's arm if he was atop literally everyone's draft boards. And I won't proclaim Daunte incapable of captaining an NFL team until I see him really fall on his face.
Both will have trouble staying up, as the aforementioned weak-as-toilet paper O-line will crumple against Falcons first- and second-teamers alike, but when they get the ball off, good things might happen.
Of course, making it all a lot easier is this group of receivers, more or less the strength (now that feels weird to say) of the entire team. You've heard of Calvin Johnson, but in this situation you might catch glimpses of rookies WR Derrick Williams and TE Brandon Pettigrew, who should grow to compliment Calv quite well.
When the Falcons' first-team secondary covers the pass-catchers in blue, I'll have no qualms, and I'm perfectly comfortable with third cornerback Von Hutchins. But beyond that, our defensive backs unit's depth has taken a bit of a hit with the injury to William Moore that forces Thomas DeCoud into starting duty.
It's not that he's not capable, it's just that that exposes the shallowness of our safeties. There's Jamaal Fudge behind him and...that's about it.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Detroit Pass Defense
Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming: Bashing Dirty Bird foes. Besides the Lions' D-line lacking anyone who really scares me as a rusher (especially not behind the starters), our receivers are just too much for a very shaky Detroit secondary to handle.
I see Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, and then D.J. Shockley each having time in the pocket, pretty much no matter who's in front of them. It would take Julian Peterson coming hard at or around one of our second-team linemen (Quinn Ojinnaka or Will Svitek are two to watch) to really make me nervous.
Meanwhile, the handful of nondescript veteran Lions cornerbacks will be puzzled by our variety at receiver. After Roddy White and Michael Jenkins get their token touches, I'll be excited to see just how healthy Brian Finneran is, not to mention who beyond Finn steps up and/or plays well in the slot. Will it be newly-signed Marty Booker? Camp standout Troy Bergeron? Or my personal pick, Eric Weems?
The point is, we have a great opportunity to figure out more about what we'll do without Harry Douglas. I will be watching Lions rookie FS Louis Delmas, though, as this will be his first showing in what could be a long season full of starts.
Oh, and by the way: For the few moments that Coach Smith deems it necessary for Tony Gonzalez to be on the field, he will absolutely have his way. Detroit lacks any defender capable of matching up with Gonzo; even Anthony Henry is too small.
Prediction: Falcons 35, Lions 10
The Lions won't be winless like last year, but it would be hard to play poorly enough, even in a preseason game, to lose this one. I will not discount the decent Lions' special teams, especially their kicking units—that's where the three points on top of the one TD come from.
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