Last season, the marauding Lions defensive front got after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan was sacked three times and hit six times as he finished with a passer rating of 63.1 in the 23-16 victory.
Garrett Reynolds lost his starting right guard job after the game.
There was a scary moment when it appeared Ryan suffered a gruesome foot or knee injury and Chris Redman took over.
Here’s a brief Q&A with Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham.
Q: How would you describe Ndamukong Suh?
A: Talented player, very talented player. He’s got great strength. He’s quick off the ball. Really good pass rusher, one of the best pass rushers for an interior guy in the league. And a guy who is relentless, plays to the whistle. He’s certainly someone you have to account for.
Q: Does Falcons coach Mike Smith have to remind guys what is at stake this week?
A: No, I don’t think so. I think everybody understands where we are at in terms of the regular season and what’s in front of us and what our mindset needs to be. I think the focus in our locker room has been good the last two weeks and we need to keep it there.
Q: Suh gets a lot of headlines, but who else on that defense draws your attention during film study?
A: Cliff Avril is a really good player. He’s a good pass rusher. Chris Houtson is a guy who was here with us. He’s playing really well for Detroit and has been the last couple of years.
Matthew Stafford took the blame for the Lions poor showing last week against Arizona.
The Lions were throttled by the Cardinals 38-10, which stopped their nine-game skid. The Lions are currently on a seven game losing streak, but have made a majority of the games close.
Stafford’s numbers are down as the Lions have not followed up last year’s breakthrough playoff season well. He’ll be the X-factor in this game.
Stafford’s completion percentage is four points lower (63.5 to 59.5 percent), his touchdowns are down from 41 to 17, while he’s on pace to pass his 16 interceptions with 15.
“He’s basically the same guy that he’s been really since he stepped on the campus here four years ago as a rookie,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He had some injury trouble his first couple of years and wasn’t able to be on the field enough for us. Everybody saw last year what he could do.”
The Lions are not worried about Stafford, because they have been decimated by injuries at the wide receiver position. Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles have all been hurt.
“Matt and Calvin (Johnson) have been bit of a two-man show on offense,” Schwartz said. “That’s no excuse. That’s the NFL in general, you look at where we were offensively last year, I don’t think that we lost a snap at wide receiver for the entire year. Our tight end played the whole year. We had more weapons around him.
“Anytime you have more places to go with the ball as a quarterback, you’re going to look better. We certainly have confidence in Matt. He’s a great player. He’s going to lead this franchise to great things.”
The book on Stafford is that you can rattle him.
The Falcons went after him last season and got back-to-back sacks from defensive end John Abraham and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on Detroit’s second possession in the Falcons 23-16 win.
“Any quarterback, you want to hit them early and that usually changes the game,” Weatherspoon said.
The Falcons don’t plan to yield the 181 yards that Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson needs to break Jerry Rice’s single-season mark.
Johnson caught five passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in last season’s matchup at Ford Field.
The Falcons’ secondary will be on the hot seat for this contest.
Johnson is the lone bright spot for the Lions as he has 106 catches for 1,667 yards. Rice set the single-season mark of 1,848 yards back in 1995.
There is even some talk about Johnson going for the 2,000-yard receiving mark at some point in his career.
“It’s tough because he’s a big guy,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “In space, he’s an amazing athlete. When you throw the ball up, he’ll go up and get it.”
Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons will have a plan.
“The best thing that we can do up front to help them is whenever our pressures are called, we have to get around the quarterback,” Weatherspoon said. “You don’t want to leave the guys out there with him too long.”
Johnson had only a catch for 25 yards in the first half last season as the Falcons played keep-away from the Lions. He did most of his damage after the Falcons opened a 20-9 lead.
“You just have to know where he is and make sure that more than one (defensive back) knows where he is at all times and is in tune to what he likes to do,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “It’s not anything different from what we did last year. We just have to make sure we have somebody underneath him or on top of him or both. “
In addition to the Georgia-Georgia Tech connection of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions signed former Georgia wide receiver Chris Durham this season.
Durham, who was drafted by Seattle and played in three games with the Seahawks last season, played three seasons with Stafford in Athens.
He’s made two starts and has five catches for 68 yards.
Other connections include:
Lions cornerback Chris Houston, who was drafted by the Falcons in the second round (41st pick) in the 2007 draft and spent three seasons in Atlanta.
Lions fullback Shaun Chapas, who played with Stafford, and Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent at Georgia.
Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who won a BCS national championship with Falcons long snapper Josh Harris at Auburn in 2010.
Falcons fullback Mike Cox and defensive tackle Vance Walker, who played with Johnson at Georgia Tech.
Lions tackle Jeff Backus, who was raised in Norcross and played at Norcross High, the reigning Class AAAAAA state football champions.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who started his NFL scouting career as a member of the Lions’ staff from 1994 to 1997.
Falcons linebackers coach Glenn Pires, who coached the Lions linebackers from 2001 to 2002.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who coached with Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill in Baltimore in 1996. They were also on the Cleveland Browns staff together from 1993 to 1995.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions last week against Arizona.
“He’s a gunslinger,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.
The Falcons had two interceptions against the Giants to give them 18 for the season, which ranks fourth in the league. Only Chicago (21), Giants (20) and Arizona (22) have more interceptions.
The Falcons are also plus-9 in takeaways, which is eighth in the league.
To go with their 18 interceptions, the Falcons have nine fumble recoveries for 27 turnovers. The offense has 14 interceptions and four fumbles for 18 turnovers.
The Lions are minus-9 in takeaways, which is 24th in the league. They have 11 interceptions and six fumble recoveries for 17 turnovers. The offense has 15 interceptions and 11 fumbles lost for 26 turnovers.
The Falcons have recorded two interceptions or more in six games and are 6-0 in those contests.
Creating turnovers and holding teams to field goals once they reach the red zone has been the trademark of the Falcons defense this season.
“That is kind of where we’ve made our hay,” said safety Thomas DeCoud, who leads the team with six interceptions. “Red zone defense and our ability to get the ball back. Even if a team can string a drive together and we’re not able to get a turnover and they are not able get into the end zone; we know that we have a good chance of keeping them out. Those things are kind of married together.”
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