Falcons expecting rugged battle from the Lions

Ex-Falcons John Cominsky and Charles Harris have found a home with Lions

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons must protect their kneecaps this week.

Detroit coach Dan Campbell vowed in his introductory press conference that the Lions were going to “bite a kneecap off” on their way back up from getting knocked down.

The Falcons (2-0) are set to face the resurgent Lions (1-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.

“Very tough team,” Falcons safety Richie Grant said. “They’ve got a vet quarterback. Good running game. They are going to try to establish the run. We know.”

Campbell, a former NFL tight end, has instilled his brand of toughness in the Lions. They came on strong last season and opened the 2023 season with a victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs.

“I love Dan Campbell,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “I think maybe the league got too boring and corporate, but it’s healthy for the game. In all seriousness, he’s a great coach. He’s done a hell of a job up there.”

The Lions, who are led by quarterback Jared Goff, lost to Seattle 37-31 in overtime Sunday.

“We know we have a good challenge coming up, going on the road against Detroit,” Smith said. “They lost a tough one (to Seattle) in overtime. That place, I’m sure, will be rocking. So, it’ll be good to get into a foreign environment. It’ll be loud, there will be a lot of energy in the building. (We’ve) got to be ready to roll.”

Goff had a streak of 383 pass attempts without an interception until he tossed a costly pick-six Sunday. It was the third longest streak in NFL history behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

“He’s a good player,” Smith said. “A guy that I think is very underrated. He was the No. 1 pick (in the 2016 NFL draft).”

The Lions picked up Goff in a trade with the Rams as they moved on from longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2021.

“Clearly, he has an elite skill set,” Smith said. “The guy has won a lot of games in this league as a starter. Took a team to a Super Bowl.”

Goff was 42-27 as a starter with the Rams and is 13-19-1 with the Lions. The Lions won eight of their final 10 games last season and had hoped to carry that momentum into the 2023 season.

“So, he’s a good player,” Smith said. “I’m not sure why he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. … It will be a challenge. They have a good football team. They’ve got a good line, tough receivers, (and the) defense (is) playing well. The secondary is aggressive. We’re looking forward to it. It will be a good challenge.”

The Lions, who have one of the better offensive lines in the league, have tried to establish the running game. They have featured running backs David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs, who played at Georgia Tech before he transferred to Alabama.

The line is anchored by center Frank Ragnow, and third-year tackle Penei Sewell took over at left tackle for Taylor Decker last week.

Amon-Ra St. Brown is the Lions’ leading receiver with 12 catches, and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta has 10.

“They’ve got some really good receivers as well,” Grant said. “They are very good overall team, physical team. It’s going to be tough up there in that environment.”

Like the Falcons, the Lions picked up a veteran safety in free agency to help improve their secondary. The Lions signed Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to a one-year, $8.5 million deal.

“He’s a very, very instinctive player,” Smith said. “Chauncey, he’s a damn good football player. I have a ton of respect for him. He makes a lot of plays.”

The Lions had 39 sacks last season and were led by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who had 9.5. Also, James Houston, who played at Jackson State, had eight sacks.

“They are a hard-nosed football team,” Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier said. “They are pretty physical. It should be a great matchup.”

Also, former Falcons John Cominsky and Charles Harris have found homes with the Lions.

Cominsky was taken by the Falcons in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. He played in only four games in 2021, as he didn’t really fit the Falcons’ 3-4 alignment. He now starts for the Lions.

Harris played 13 games and made one start with the Falcons in 2020. He had 7.5 sacks for the Lions in 2021.

This will be the 40th meeting between the Lions and Falcons. The Lions lead the series 25-14. The Falcons have won six of the past 10 meetings. The Falcons won the last meeting 20-16 on Dec. 26, 2021.

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