By David Klein
The Lions visit the Big Easy this Sunday for a 1pm (EST) kickoff against the 5-6 New Orleans Saints. There will be nothing easy about it though, as playing in the hostile confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the league’s top-ranked offense poses an intimidating challenge. Drew Brees will be, by far, the toughest QB match-up the Lions have faced since Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in Week 3, but with a full 10 days off since their win over the Vikings on Thanksgiving, Detroit should be well-prepared, rested, and relatively healthy heading into the game.
What to Look For:
-Matthew Stafford vs Drew Brees in a battle of NFC QB Superstars
As far as quarterback duals go, it doesn’t get much more marquee than this, and both Brees and Stafford are once again near the top of the league in most QB metrics. Brees QB rating, however, is nearly a full ten points higher (109.1 to 99.3) and he has thrown for 11 more TD’s (30 to 19) – on 65 more pass attempts. The Saints are not as one dimensional as Detroit on offense, though. Mark Ingram’s 5.3 YPC ranks him third in the NFL and Tim Hightower is a more-than-capable veteran change-of-pace back on third downs. So the Saints can run the ball.
Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin and the Lions defense will have its hands full on multiple fronts. CB’s Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, and Quandrey Diggs had better make sure their shoes are tied and they are well-hydrated, because they will be running around a lot on Sunday. It will be up to DE’s Devin Taylor and Ziggy Ansah to generate a push at the line of scrimmage and a pass rush with, presumably, only 7 players in the box. Ansah, astonishingly, has not recorded a sack this year (in 8 games played) and Taylor has been mediocre to invisible for several weeks. All of the above will be key as to whether or not the Lions stand a chance.
-Time of Possession
The Lions clock management this season has been nothing short of excellent. A problem area that has plagued the team for years is now becoming a strength. A wise strategy to defeat the Saints at home has always been to keep Brees on the sidelines by executing long, pounding drives against their defense. This will be a tough task for Detroit. They still just can’t seem to get anything going on the ground between the tackles consistently, and Stafford is decidedly more crisp in his execution of the offense when they play more up-tempo. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter develops his game plan.
The Saints defense is probably not as bad as its 26th overall ranking would indicate. They have battled injuries, but rookie Sheldon Rankins) is back, as is LB Dannell Ellerbe, and CB Delvin Breaux. They have allowed a respectable 23.2 points per game over their last six contests, and despite muddling along at 3-3 through that stretch, I think its safe to say the days of them getting lit up for 38 or 45 points in a game are gone – which was the case in weeks 3 and 6. Both defenses are actually probably better than their statistics, but on paper I’d have to give the edge to Detroit.
This game is absolutely pivotal for the Saints and has huge implications (especially for NO) in the NFC playoff picture. As such, I just don’t see them losing this game at home. Having LB DeAndre Levy back in the fold would help a ton and he practiced this week, but is still out for at least another game. The Lions simply don’t get blown out though, and I can easily see this going down to the wire in a fourth quarter shoot-out. As of today, I would take the Lions (-6) and the Over.