By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – Call it the immovable object against the irresistible
force in Detroit this weekend when the NFC North-leading Lions play host to
the high-powered New Orleans Saints.
Detroit has the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense, allowing just 270.7 yards per
game, while the Saints will counter with Drew Brees, who is 4-0 against the
Lions in his career, and the NFC’s top-ranked offense, piling up 442.8 YPG.
Something has to give.
“I came in with the idea that we’re going to try to make certain that this
team is more about winning than about statistical milestones and I think
that’s the most important thing that you have to look at,” Lions coach Jim
Caldwell has proven to be quite the upgrade over former coach Jim Schwartz,
turning what was regarded as an offensively-driven, undisciplined team into a
defense-first bunch which was able to win in Minneapolis last weekend despite
the absence of star playmakers Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush.
Detroit’s stout defense had eight sacks and three interceptions and overcame
continued kicking problems to take an easy 17-3 win over the Vikings.
Matt Stafford was a pedestrian 19-for-33 for 185 yards and one touchdown
without Johnson, while Joique Bell added a rushing touchdown for the Lions,
who bounced back from a three-point loss at home to Buffalo.
That loss was due in large part to three missed field goals from Alex Henery,
which led the Lions to release him and bring in their third kicker of the
season in Matt Prater. Playing for the first time since serving a four-game
suspension and being cut by the Broncos, Prater made a 52-yard field goal but
missed two more attempts Detroit kickers have now missed 10 field goals on the
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, however, was named NFC Defensive Player of the
Week after recording 2 1/2 sacks, five tackles and a career-high four tackles
for a loss.
“Defense was smothering all day long,” said Caldwell. “I’m not certain I’ve
ever been around a defense that had eight sacks in a ball game, that was quite
a performance and our defensive guys did a great job.”
The Saints, meanwhile, come in off their bye week, last taking the field back
on Oct.5 when they outlasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 37-31, in overtime.
Khiry Robinson’s 18-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the extra
frame capped an impressive comeback in that one as New Orleans scored 17
unanswered points to down the Bucs.
The Saints were on the verge of another debilitating loss before Brees and the
offense made enough big plays down the stretch to extend New Orleans’ home
winning streak to 10 games.
“As tired as we were, I think we wore the defense down,” Brees said. “Our guys
controlled the line of scrimmage…and Khiry was the hammer.”
Pierre Thomas totaled 112 yards from scrimmage and scored both on the ground
and through the air, while Brees overcame a three-interception performance
with 371 yards and two touchdowns on 35-of-57 attempts.
“We had them where we wanted them,” Bucs QB Mike Glennon said. “But against
Drew Brees and that offense the game is never over.”
Star tight end Jimmy Graham left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder
injury and reports have surfaced that the All-Pro is expected to miss multiple
The Saints lead their all-time series with Detroit by a 11-9-1 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Brees has always owned the Lions, compiling the 4-0 record while completing
75.2 percent of his passes for an average of nearly 380 yards with 14 TDs
against just one interception and a mind-boggling 133.8 passer rating.
This, however, is a very different Lions defense and Brees himself has
struggled at times this season especially when trying to push the ball
down the field. Of course, the veteran still ranks second in the NFL with
314.8 passing yards per game and the Saints offense as a whole is No. 2
“He is extremely familiar with his system that he’s been running it for a long
time,” Caldwell said when discussing Brees. “He also has an innate ability, he
had it when he was at Purdue, he’s an anticipatory passer and he’s also a pin
point passer, he gets the ball out pretty quickly as well. He’s been around
the block a bit, but he’s always been an elite performer.”
The fact that Brees’ ex-quarterbacks coach in New Orleans, Joe Lombardi, is
now the offensive coordinator in Detroit could give the Lions a bit of an
advantage when preparing for the veteran Pro-Bowler.
“Joe always seemed to have ideas and really good ideas,” Brees said. “Just
observations and just things that I really sought out his advice for
throughout the week in regards to what he was seeing, what he was feeling.”
The problems for New Orleans are both familiar and new. The Saints have now
lost six straight and eight of nine away from the Superdome, and are already
0-3 on the road this season while surrendering two fourth-quarter leads.
“Typically, when you’re playing good football, that kind of stuff handles
itself,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of his team’s road woes. “Obviously,
it’s more noticeable when you string together a handful of games or you start
the season off the way we have with three road losses.
“We were able to play well last year in the playoffs on the road, but
nonetheless, if you’re going to be a team that contends, you’re going to have
to be able to do that not only at home, but you’re going to have to play well
on the road. There are a number of things that go into that, handling the
noise, handling the challenges of playing in an environment away from where
you’re used to playing.”
The new issue with New Orleans is turnovers and the Saints will arrive in the
Motor City with a minus-8 ratio.
“We’ve turned the ball over too much and that starts with me,” Brees said.
The Lions have their own offensive problems and amassed a season-worst 255
yards of offense against the Vikings while converting only one of 13 third
downs. Over the last two games Detroit is a dismal 2-for-24 on the game’s most
important down, a number directly tied to Johnson’s high ankle sprain.
Overall the Lions are just 23rd in offense (330.2 ypg) after averaging nearly
400 ypg over the previous three seasons and never finishing lower than sixth
in the NFL.
“To say it’s all an issue with Calvin’s injury, I’d say absolutely not,”
Caldwell said. “I’d say it’s an execution issue and it’s one that we have to
get better at. I think the minute you allow yourself to start looking for
excuses as to why you’re not functioning well, you’re going to head down the
wrong path and you’re going to find your team softening up, not taking on the
challenge, not trying to get better because you’ve already laid down a built-
in excuse. We have no excuses.”
Caldwell expects Johnson to miss Sunday’s game as well as a Week 8 matchup in
Atlanta before the team’s bye week. Bush, however, practiced Wednesday and is
on track to face one of his former teams. The dynamic back piled up 4,232
yards of total offense in five seasons with the Saints after being selected
No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft.
The Saints defense also ranks 23rd, however, by allowing 379.6 yards per game,
a year after finishing fourth while over 70 yards less per contest.
The missing ingredient has been the pass rush with NOLA registering just six
sacks in five games after collecting 49 last season.
“Sacks truly affect quarterbacks’ mindsets,” Saints defensive end Cameron
Jordan said. “If you put pressure on him, he’s uncomfortable. If you sack him,
it can change games.”
The Saints haven’t lost seven consecutive road games since a 14-game skid that
spanned from October of 1998 through until Jan. 2, 2000.
If this team is truly going to be a contender, it needs to step it up and the
extra week of preparation, along with the injury to Johnson should be the
“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Brees surmised.
“Obviously, we’re coming off a big win two weeks ago into the bye week and
were able to get healthy. I’m looking forward to putting a good week
Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 23, Lions 21