4 keys to a Lions victory over the Falcons in Week 16

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  • Atlanta Falcons
    Atlanta Falcons
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  • Detroit Lions
    Detroit Lions
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  • Los Angeles Rams
    Los Angeles Rams
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A week after stunning the NFL and blowing out the NFC West-leading (at the time) Arizona Cardinals, the Detroit Lions look to make it two wins in a row. The trip to Atlanta to face the Falcons gives the Lions their first chance at a winning streak since Weeks 6 and 7 of the 2020 season.

Ironically enough, the second game of that win streak came against these same Falcons in Atlanta. It was certainly a memorable victory; Matthew Stafford hit T.J. Hockenson for a game-winning touchdown pass as time expired, elevating the Lions to 3-3 with a fun road win.

Repeating that glorious win is certainly possible, but it will not be easy. For starters, both Stafford (now a Ram) and Hockenson (now on IR) are gone. So is a lot of the projected starting defense for Detroit. This year’s edition of the Falcons is a better one than the team the Lions dropped to 1-5 in that fateful win a year ago, too.

How can the Lions beat the 6-8 Falcons in Week 15? Here are four keys to a potential Detroit road win.

Take chances down the field

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This will likely require Jared Goff being at quarterback and playing the way he has the last few weeks. Goff’s questionable status — he’s currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list — is a complicating factor, but the principle remains: throw the ball down the field.

No team generates less pressure on the quarterback or registers fewer sacks per dropback than the Falcons defense. And outside of second-year CB A.J. Terrell, the Falcons aren’t very reliable in coverage either. Terrell is fantastic, but guys like Fabian Moreau and Darren Hall are vulnerable to the intermediate/deeper routes where Goff has found success recently with the likes of Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds.

If Tim Boyle is forced to play, it’s worth noting he was consistently better in training camp and the preseason at throwing deep than short. That’s still how to beat the Falcons defense, but Boyle’s first start in place of an injured Goff did not go well. Not having Hockenson means the wide receivers will need to step up as they did in recent wins over Minnesota and Arizona.

Win the red zone battles

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The Lions have one of the most infamous red zone moments in NFL history against the Falcons. Avoiding a repeat of the play that made everyone familiar with the 10-second runoff for an officiating mistake is important for Detroit in Week 16, too.

The play came in 2017 in Detroit. Golden Tate appears to score the game-winning touchdown for the Lions. It’s ruled a touchdown on the field, but the booth review revealed that Tate was stopped just short of the goal line. Yet because the officials on the field missed a judgment call in the heat of the action, the Lions were penalized another shot at the win by the 10-second runoff that automatically comes upon any changed call in the final two minutes.

It’s an absurd rule, one that somehow remains on the books despite no rational defense ever being offered for its existence.

Hopefully it doesn’t come into play in Atlanta, where the Falcons are one of the worst red zone teams on both offense (26th) and defense (31st). Detroit isn’t any better, ranking 30th on offense and 27th on defense. The more successful team at converting red zone possessions into not just points but touchdowns should have a decided advantage.

And change that stinky rule, Mr. Goodell. Players on the field should never be placed at a disadvantage when the officials get something wrong.

Contain Cordarrelle Patterson

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Patterson does a little bit of everything for the Falcons offense. He’s found a home as their featured weapon.

Though he wears No. 84, Patterson is Atlanta’s featured running back. He has gained 565 yards on 133 carries, both team highs, and scored five TDs. But he’s still dangerous in the more traditional role he played for other teams, as a receiving weapon who can line up all over the formation. Patterson has 48 receptions for 524 yards and five more TDs. And he’s still one of the NFL’s best kick returners, too.

This is a player who has historically given the Lions fits as a role player in his time with Minnesota and Chicago. His highest career rushing and receiving totals against any other team both come at Detroit’s expense. Patterson is the Falcons’ primary threat whenever and wherever he is on the field. If he goes off the way he’s burned Detroit in the past, and how he’s played the rest of this season, it’s apt to be a long day for the Lions.

Don't get beaten by penalties

(AP Photo/Lon Horwedel)

The Falcons have some issues, but they’ve been successful on the penalty front. Atlanta has been the net beneficiary in the officiating department.

Atlanta has been guilty of 92 fouls, while the officials have called 101 on their foes. The Falcons have a net of plus-174 in penalty yardage differential and have gained 11 extra first downs. All those figures are among the best in the league.

Meanwhile, Lions have penalty problems. Detroit has been called for 114 accepted penalties to just 80 for their opponents. The net yardage is almost dead even (plus-23), but it’s the presnap penalties that have consistently doomed the Lions, especially on offense. Those cannot happen against the Falcons, who are disciplined and avoid beating themselves with dumb mental errors.

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