Wed, 25 Nov 2020

Mike OHara

Running back Adrian Peterson likes the role he was expected to play when he signed with the Detroit Lions before the start of training camp.

"I came in being that guy on first and second down," Peterson said this week. "Sometimes, you might see me out there on third down as well.

"Just being the guy that can contribute to what they're trying to do."

Peterson has filled his role well. He isn't the workhorse of his early days in the NFL, but he leads the Lions with 69 carries for 288 yards. He has two touchdowns.

Peterson also has been a mentor to the young running backs. Rookie D'Andre Swift in particular, who has blossomed of late as a dual threat runner and receiver, has benefitted from Peterson's presence and willingness to share his knowledge of the game.

The Lions are at a point in their season where they can get into playoff contention if they can string together some victories.

Swift can be a significant contributor for the Lions. He had a breakout performance in last week's road win over the Jaguars, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Before that, Swift had shown flashes of the talent that caused the Lions to draft him in the second round in April.

"He's a guy that's very talented," Peterson said. "You think of Week 1, compared to where we are now - he's taken tremendous steps in improving his game and becoming more of a professional."

Swift was in awe of Peterson when he first came to the Lions. That's understandable, given Peterson's iconic status. Peterson is still royalty among running backs, but his relationship is more on the level of a teammate who sets standards for others to follow.

"To have him in the room, dropping knowledge on everybody in the room - giving us pointers each and every day," Swift said when asked what he learns from Peterson.

"I'm asking him how he's going about his recovery, his eating habits. Anything that got him to this level. How he keeps going.

"Any knowledge I can get from him to help me. Just the way he goes to work every day ... his practice habits. That's first and foremost."

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Mega-praise, Falcon to watch:

Falcons head coach Raheem Morris compared star receiver Julio Jones to retired Lions star Calvin Johnson, and it's hard to disagree that they have a lot in common.

At 6-5 and 237 pounds, Johnson was slightly bigger than Jones, who's 6-3 and 220. But Jones is still a dominating player, as Johnson was in his nine-yard career.

Jones made seven Pro Bowls in his first nine seasons, and he's led the league in receptions twice and receiving yards three times. His high of 1,871 receiving yards in 2015 has been surpassed only once - by Johnson, with 1,964 in 2012.

"You're talking about arguably the best receiver in the NFL," Morris said of Jones this week in an interview with the Detroit media. "I think he's the best I've ever seen.

"When he's out there, we're a better team."

Jones has 23 catches for 350 yards, with two TDs and an average of 15.2 yards per catch.

After missing the previous week's game with a hamstring injury, Jones returned in last week's win over the Vikings with eight catches for 137 yards and two TDs.

Jones had a 20-yard TD catch on third and one in the first quarter, and a 40-yard TD catch on fourth and three in the third quarter.

Random Thoughts:

Strategy, run or pass?: In their two wins, the Lions had decent success running against the Cardinals (90 yards on 27 runs) in Week 3, and 180 yards on 39 runs last week against the Jaguars. Those two teams have not performed as well as the Falcons against the run. They rank fifth in the league, holding opponents to 97.2 yards per game.

Against the pass, the Falcons rank 31st in yards allowed per game (335.3), 30th in completion rate (71.7) and last in cumulative passer rating (114.1).

Matthew Stafford's only game this season with more than 250 yards passing was 270 in the win over the Cardinals.

The opportunity to throw the ball successfully should be there if the Lions can't crack Atlanta's run defense.

On the run: There's one reason to stick with the run, even if it means going against the relative strength of Atlanta's defense. It's working.

The Lions have rushed for 587 yards, compared to 538 for the first five games last season. That's a difference of just under five yards per game. It's not a huge difference, but what's more significant is yards per carry - 4.25 this year vs. 3.76 a year ago for the first five games.

Trench battle, reserves: The Lions' offensive line should get a tougher test from the Falcons' defensive line than it got last week from the Jaguars largely because of the presence of Grady Jarrett. He's playing at his Pro Bowl level of last season.

Jarrett has 2.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits.

Narrow margins: Of the 14 teams that have won two games or fewer, only one has a points differential less than the minus 10 for the Lions.

No surprise, it's the Patriots at minus one, also with a 2-3 record. Denver also is 2-3 and minus 10. The Falcons, at 1-5, are minus 22

Points differentials for the Lions and Falcons project a close game.

My prediction does not agree.

Prediction: The Lions and Falcons are similar in how they got their won-loss records. They've played some good ball, and they've had bad stretches - mostly in losing leads late in games. The Falcons can test the Lions' defense, with quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Todd Gurley

The Lions have some firepower on offense, too. This is a good time for Stafford to have a big game.

Pick: Lions 38, Falcons 21.

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