DETROIT - Matt Ryan could search the world and struggle to find many people who can relate to him and his life.
Matthew Stafford is an exception and is someone Ryan described as a “great friend,” this week.
“We go through a lot of the same things, same issues,” Ryan said. “It’s a unique position, a unique fraternity for quarterbacks throughout the league. When you run into guys in the offseason, you get the opportunity to pick their brains about a lot of different stuff. We certainly talk about some of those things.”
The quarterbacks of the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions struck up a friendship at the 2014 Pro Bowl, finding out then that they have homes near each other in Georgia. The relationship between Ryan and Stafford has developed enough that they and their wives hang out together in the offseason, shooting hoops and the breeze.
“As you married people know, when your wives get along, that helps,” Stafford said. “It’s kind of nice to have somebody in the league that you can talk ball with in the offseason.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said their friendship off the field helps them on it.
“It’s really significant,” Quinn said. “There’s a guy who’s literally been in your shoes. ... And, it’s even true for guys like myself who are in a head coaching position that I have some people that I lean on and can ask questions to that might not be on our own team.”
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Here are some things to watch when Detroit (2-0) hosts Atlanta (2-0) Sunday in a matchup of two of NFC’s four undefeated teams:
PUMP THE BREAKS: The NFC-North leading Lions are refusing to get too excited about their solid start, especially after turning a 9-4 record into a 9-7 finish last season.
“We don’t want to feel like we’ve made it,” Detroit receiver Golden Tate said. “We have proven nothing.”
SACK SHOW: Stafford and Ryan may not have a lot of time to throw. The Falcons have seven sacks this season, ranking among league leaders. Only Oakland had fewer sacks than the Lions last year, and they already have six.
Atlanta’s pass rush, though, has taken a hit. Vic Beasley, who led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks last year and had two more this season, is out with an injured right hamstring. Rookie Takkarist McKinley, the No. 26 pick overall, is expected to fill in for Beasley. In a great sign for the Lions, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah had three sacks Monday night against the New York Giants to surpass his total number of sacks during an injury-riddled season in 2016.
RUN GAME: When most NFL teams line up running backs out wide as receivers, or send them in motion away from the offensive line, they’re trying to figure out if defenses are in man-to-man coverage or zone. With the Falcons, that’s not the case.
Davonta Freeman has 161 receptions in three-plus years and Tevin Coleman already has six catches this season after finishing with 31 last year for Atlanta.
“When they put their running backs out there, you can’t look at those guys as decoys,” Lions safety Glover Quin said.
HE’S STREAKING: Ryan is aiming to extend his NFL-record streak of 57 consecutive games with at least 200 yards passing along with a couple other impressive runs. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 195 attempts. And, he has the league’s longest active streak with touchdown pass in 21 straight games.
INJURY ISSUES: The Lions may be without a few significant players. Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis (concussion), starting center Travis Swanson (ankle) and starting Tavon Wilson (shoulder) were all held out of Thursday’s practice.
In addition to being without Beasley, the Falcons didn’t have starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) or defensive end Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee) in practice just three days before the game in Detroit. If Schraeder is out, Atlanta will likely put Ty Sambrailo in his place just a few weeks after acquiring him from Denver for a fifth-round pick. If Davis is held out, Detroit’s lackluster options to start at middle linebacker are Nick Bellore, rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa.
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