The Detroit Lions defensive statistics suggest Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley III is in line for a big afternoon Sunday. But quarterback Matt Ryan could have a big game too, especially in the event that the Falcons win their second straight.
Detroit is ranked in the bottom third of the league in many run defense categories, but the pass defense isn't significantly better. From a matchup perspective, assuming Julio Jones remains healthy through another week -- he didn't practice Wednesday -- the Falcons can exploit the Lions secondary.
Through five games, Detroit is ranked 15th in pass defense and tied for 10th with five interceptions. Remember, the Lions already had their bye week, so they are averaging a pick per week.
Those are decent stats considering the Lions traded away top cornerback Darius Slay to Seattle last year. While Detroit signed former Falcons defensive back Desmond Trufant this offseason, he's dealing with a hamstring injury and has played in just two games. Sound familiar, Falcons fans?
Fellow veteran cornerback Justin Coleman hasn't played since Week 1, but he returned to practice this week. His return would be significant if he can play major snaps Sunday.
Without Coleman and Trufant, the Lions have started Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah at cornerback most of this season. Behind those two young defensive backs and very little pass rush, the Lions are 19th in net passing yards allowed per attempt.
The top cornerback in the 2020 class, Okudah was the No. 3 overall pick this past spring, but Oruwariye, who became a fifth-round selection in 2019, has become Detroit's top cover man.
In five games, opposing quarterbacks have only targeted Oruwariye roughly five times per game, and he's allowed just 11 receptions. On balls thrown to the receiver he covers, quarterbacks possess a 62.0 passer rating, which is seventh-best in the NFL according to MLive.com.
This past Sunday, Oruwariye shadowed Jaguars top wideout D.J. Chark most of the afternoon and held him to 6.4 yards per catch. Falcons fans should expect Oruwariye to cover Jones for most of Week 7.
The Lions defense held Green Bay Packers star Davante Adams in check and didn't allow Arizona Cardinals superstar DeAndre Hopkins to score a touchdown in Week 3, but the Falcons passing attack is another challenge for Detroit because of the receiving depth Atlanta has with Jones back in the lineup. If Oruwariye follows Jones, that leaves Okudah responsible for Calvin Ridley.
Against the Jaguars, Okudah gave up two receptions to Keelan Cole longer than 35 yards. While Chark did very little, Cole posted 143 receiving yards while averaging 23.8 yards per reception. He hauled in six of his nine targets.
Ridley should be able to take advantage of this matchup as well. Then if Ridley burns the Lions for some big plays, Detroit coach Matt Patricia may need to adjust his coverage, moving Oruwariye to help on Ridley. In that situation, things open up for Jones.
The Falcons should also give the Jaguars trouble with Russell Gage in the slot and tight end Hayden Hurst over the middle. Safety Duron Harmon, who had an interception last week, will be key against Hurst. Detroit hasn't faced a team with an elite tight end all season, but the Lions gave up touchdowns to Jimmy Graham and Robert Tonyan in the first two weeks of the year.
These matchups, though, are contingent on Jones playing and the Falcons establishing at least a little bit of a ground attack. Jacksonville rushed for only 44 yards last week versus Detroit, which really helped the Lions secondary. Gardner Minshew was forced to throw 44 times, and he averaged only 5.5 yards per pass.
Ryan isn't Minshew, so if the Falcons must drop back to pass often, they can expect more success than the Jaguars had, but it would surely help if Gurley can be efficient versus the Lions porous run defense.