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Lions will key on Atlanta's ground game
Matt Ryan is coming off an MVP season and Julio Jones may be the best wide receiver in the NFL, but the Detroit Lions insist their first order of business this week is to stop Devonta Freeman and the Falcons' running game.
"You definitely want to stop just shutting down that stretch sideways zone scheme because Freeman's made a killing off that in his four years in Atlanta," Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. "That's the first thing we've got to stop, and then get after Matt Ryan. If we stop that then you saw last week was a result, the week before was a result of what we can do once we make a team one dimensional."
The Lions are one of eight 2-0 teams left in the NFL thanks in part to a rush defense that ranks fourth in the league at just 53.5 yards per game.
They held David Johnson to just 23 yards rushing in three quarters before he left with a wrist injury in the season opener, then limited the Giants to 62 yards on the ground on Monday night.
Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah, Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington have all played well against the run so far, and rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis has 15 tackles and a fumble recovery, though his status for the weekend is uncertain because of a concussion.
"We've played very well as a unit," Washington said. "You're talking about 45 (net yards rushing by the Cardinals) and then 60-some-odd this week, nobody's doing that. We're stuffing this run up and then we get to rush the passer. That's what it's about."
Washington said stopping Freeman and his cohort, Tevin Coleman, is the key to limiting the Falcons' deep passing game because much of their success comes off the play-action pass.
"You make them one-dimensional, you take the run away, now Matt Ryan can't sit back there and play-action your ass all day long," Washington said.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said the Falcons run on the perimeter "as well as anybody" in the NFL, and a key Sunday will be Washington and the rest of the Lions' defensive ends winning on the edge.
"You got to be able to constrict the running lanes and try to bottle them up and keep them inside so your people that are pursuing can keep their angles and make plays for you," Caldwell said. "And our guys have done OK at this point in time. I mean, any time that you see the run totals down, you know we've done a decent job. But we can get better."
SERIES HISTORY: 37th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 24-12. One memorable meeting between these two teams came in 2012, when Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for 225 yards to break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record. The Falcons won the game, 31-18, but Johnson passed Rice's mark on a 26-yard pass from Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter.