By: Will Burchfield
The Lions’ defense still has a long way to go to instill fear in the opposition. And the Falcons’ offense is much too mighty to be afraid.
So when Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was asked on Wednesday what scares him most about Detroit’s defense after two strong performances to open the season, he paused.
“Well, I wouldn’t say,” Quinn began, and it was clear where he was headed.
The high-flying Falcons aren’t scared heading into Sunday’s game in Detroit.
Still, Quinn acknowledged the Lions have done some impressive things on defense through the first two weeks. Namely, they’re not conceding easy yards.
“They’re tackling well. I’d say that part of the fundamentals really looks sharp,” Quinn said in a conference call with local reporters. “I think Teryl Austin and (linebackers coach) Bill (Sheridan) are really equipped, that part of their game. It just looks like there’s not a lot of free plays to be made based on the tackling.”
The Lions’ defense surrendered just 16 points versus the Cardinals in Week 1 and 10 versus the Giants in Week 2. The secondary has come up with four interceptions after netting just 10 all of last season and the defensive line has shown a surprising ability to pressure the quarterback.
“For years I’ve been impressed by the way Kris (Kocurek) coaches the defensive line and the front four. They’re aggressive, they’re up-field,” said Quinn. “I think in the backend — the secondary and the linebackers — the tackling looks really on point, and then when you have a front like they do that can disrupt, you better have your pass protection ready.”
A healthy Ziggy Ansah has provided a massive boost on the defensive line. He notched three sacks versus the Giants — his first multi-sack game since Thanksgiving of 2015 — and looks poised to regain his havoc-wreaking ways. Detroit’s pass rush was a perceived weakness heading into the season, but the Lions have six sacks through two games.
They’ll have an opportunity to pad this total versus Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was dumped twice in Week 1 and three times in Week 2.
The Lions have been even better versus the run. They limited the Cardinals to 45 rushing yards and the Giants to 62.
Said Jim Caldwell, “Any time you see the run totals down, you know we’ve done a decent job. But we can get better. Cornelius (Washington) has done a good job with it. Ziggy has done a good job. The guys that have been in there have been decent at it, but we can get better. We still have a ways to go.”
Against the Falcons, who churned up 141 yards on the ground in a Week 2 win over the Packers, it will be critical to keep Devonta Freeman from gaining the edge.
“These guys run the perimeter as well as anybody. They mix it up on you pretty well,” Caldwell said. “You have 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.”
The Lions’ defense has been a pleasant surprise early on. It isn’t a fearsome unit, not yet, but it can go a long way in proving itself on Sunday.