Game Week: Gameday Primer

33rd meeting. Lions lead series, 23-9. The teams have met four times since 2002, and they split. The Lions won the last meeting in 2006, 30-14. Prediction and more inside.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/7/08
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX (Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Nischelle Turner)
SERIES: 33rd meeting. Lions lead series, 23-9. The teams have met four times since 2002, and they split. The Lions won the last meeting in 2006, 30-14.

PREDICTION: Lions 24-10

KEYS TO THE GAME: New Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto has vowed to run the ball, although the ground game was hit and miss during the preseason. Newly-signed RB Rudi Johnson won't see more than a few carries, but the team likes the cut-back style of rookie Kevin Smith in its zone blocking scheme. The Falcons didn't upgrade their front seven much, and if Detroit can run the ball at all, WRs Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson could have huge days. ... With QB Matt Ryan making his first career start, and his blind side protected by fellow rookie LT Sam Baker, the focus will be on the running game led by new featured back RB Michael Turner. However, the Lions' revamped secondary needs to be tested, and expect the Falcons to look for a few safe early passes to get Ryan in the flow and build his confidence.

KEY INJURIES: Lions: TE Dan Campbell (elbow/hamstring) is questionable. Falcons: C/G Alex Stepanovich (back) is not expected to play.

NEED TO KNOW: Seven of the Lions' eight draft picks made the final roster, including starters Smith and FB Jerome Felton. ... The Falcons are 2-0 in their only two season openers at the Georgia Dome over the past eight seasons.


  • RB Rudi Johnson is expected to contribute Sunday, though offensive coordinator Jim Colletto isn't sure how much. Johnson's hamstring seems fine, and he has gotten a quick grasp of the offense since agreeing to a deal Monday.
  • RB Marcus Thomas, claimed off waivers from San Diego on Sunday, also could play right away. He can make special teams contributions on coverage units and perhaps as a returner.
  • TE Dan Campbell is expected to play after battling elbow and hamstring injuries, but he isn't expected to play the whole game. Campbell played only two games last year and missed much of the preseason.
  • OT Gosder Cherilus is expected to start at right tackle at some point, but the first-round pick will begin his career as the backup at both tackle spots.
  • DE Cliff Avril, a third-round pick this year, could be active Sunday. The Lions might want to make use of his speed off the edge on the Falcons' fast artificial surface.


  • SS Jamaal Fudge played in 20 games over two years in Jacksonville after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Fudge was attractive to the Falcons because he can upgrade their coverage units and is a big hitter.
  • RB Jerious Norwood has averaged over 6.0 yards a carry over two seasons. Fitting him into the offense will be key for the Falcons, who signed Michael Turner in the offseason. Norwood could also be a factor as the kickoff returner.
  • FS Thomas DeCoud, a promising rookie reserve, will play on specials teams and back up Erik Coleman. He suffered a mild ankle sprain and was limited in practice. He is expected to be available to play on Sunday.
  • C/G Alex Stepanovich was hampered most of training camp by a lower back injury. He was running No. 2 behind Todd McClure at center and was to be the team's top interior lineman backup. He appears to be at least a couple of weeks away.
  • LB Coy Wire injured his left ankle against Baltimore. He is out of the walking boot that he had on after the game, but has not returned to full mobility. He will likely be listed as questionable this week and has been limited in practice.


    The Falcons didn't announce that they were going to start Matt Ryan until they were certain that they could protect their $72 million investment.

    The offensive line gave up 47 sacks last season, sixth most in the league.

    Left tackle Sam Baker was drafted in the first round, second-year man Justin Blalock returns along with center Todd McClure. The right side will be manned by Harvey Dahl, an undrafted rookie free agent who beat out eight-year man Kynan Forney, and either Tyson Clabo or Todd Weiner at right tackle.

    Essentially Baker and Dahl are the only new starters, but the Falcons' new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, a longtime NFL assistant, has worked wonders with the group.

    What the unit lacks in pass-blocking talent the Falcons are going to try to make up for with sheer nastiness and guile.

    Blalock had a bumpy rookie season and seems to have benefited the most from Boudreau's teachings.

    The Falcons will also aid the line by getting the ball off quickly on short-drops and quicker patterns.

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