10 things to watch in Lions-Falcons game
Allen Park — For a week, the Lions are sitting pretty and have the eyes of the football world on them.
After beating the New York Giants in a nationally televised matchup on Monday night, they stay in the NFL focus this week, as they take on the defending NFC-champion Atlanta Falcons Sunday at Ford Field.
In a matchup of 2-0 teams, the Lions have a chance to make a statement that they could be a contender in the NFC race this season, as they seek their first 3-0 start since 2011, when they reeled off wins in their first five games.
Here are 10 things to watch in Sunday’s matchup (1 p.m., FOX, WJR 760):
1. Stafford the MVP? Matthew Stafford garnered attention this week as one of the Vegas co-favorites to win the NFL MVP, after his performance in the first two games. Since the pick-six against the Cardinals in the season opener, Stafford has looked like one of the best signal-callers in the league, with six touchdowns and no other interceptions.
2. The other Matt: In the first two games, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the reigning league MVP, hasn’t put up gaudy numbers (573 yards, two touchdowns, completing 69 percent of his passes) but he could go off at any time, especially with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu as primary targets on the outside.
3. Man in the middle: Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis, who suffered a concussion in Monday’s win over the Giants, was ruled out after missing the entire week of practice. Davis had nine tackles in the opening win over the Cardinals and was making strides in the middle of the defense before the brain injury. Look for Tahir Whitehead to move from the weak side to call the defensive signals and for a combination of Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Paul Worrilow to see more playing time.
4. Love Jones: The eyes of the Lions’ defense will be on Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who is a handful. In two career games against the Lions, he has 11 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown; if he gets loose, he’s capable of more than that in one game. Cornerback Darius Slay has said the Lions are up for the challenge.
5. Stuffing the run: Beyond Jones, the Lions’ defense will have its hands full in trying to stop one of the most prolific offenses in the league. That includes the backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who are also threats in the short receiving game. The Lions have allowed 104 yards rushing in the first two games, good for fourth in the league.
6. Who's the third? Another injury casualty is running back Dwayne Washington (quad) who was ruled out Friday. That could open the door for Zach Zenner or Tion Green as the third option in the backfield behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. The rushing game has been surprisingly effective, notching 220 yards — good for 14th in the league — through the first two weeks.
7. Many happy returns: Jamal Agnew opened some eyes with his punt return for a touchdown against the Giants, helping to create the 14-point cushion. It’s been years since the Lions were able to impact the scoreboard with their special teams, so any additional boost from that until will help against the Falcons.
8. Making the brew: With starting safety Tavon Wilson (shoulder) out, Miles Killebrew will have an opportunity for more playing time. Killebrew has looked good so far this season but he and the Lions secondary will get their biggest test against the Falcons’ versatile offense.
9. Home cooking: The Lions have won seven of their last eight home games (besides the loss to the Packers in the home finale last season). They’ll have a packed crowd, excited about the opportunity to win a statement game — and have something in the early part of the season to be excited about.
10. Give and take: The Lions have been able to create turnovers and put the offense in good positions, with the best average starting field position (their 37) in the league. They could use a few more against the Falcons, giving Stafford shorter fields to work with — or maybe free points on the board.