Lions secondary vs. Saints receivers
The loss of starting cornerback Chris Houston could be devastating to an already thin secondary come Sunday night. The New Orleans Saints throw the ball, and they throw it effectively. The Lion secondary has overachieved to this point in the season, but the lack of depth will catch up with them this week. While the loss of Houston may prove costly, it pales in comparison to the loss of starting safety Louis Delmas. The hard hitting leader of the defensive backfield will be sorely missed on the field Sunday. Delmas will be replaced by former Chicago Bear safety Chris Harris, who was released earlier in the season after struggling mightily. Harris will have his hands full in this matchup, as the Saints utilize their oversized tight end, Jimmy Graham, to create matchup nightmares for defenses.
The Lions have excelled in shutting down opposing tight ends so far this season, including the likes of Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzales, and Jermichael Finley. However, that was with Delmas in the lineup. Lion fans are hopeful that Harris’ strong play through a game and a half are indicative of his capabilities, and that the 65-yard touchdown pass given up to Green Bay’s James Jones on Thanksgiving Day was the aberration.
Lions Defensive Line vs. Fatigue
A thin secondary is usually aided by a strong pass rush, which has thus far avoided the Lions formidable front four. The loss of Ndamukong Suh will not help the situation, as Saint offensive linemen will not be forced to double team his replacement, and can focus on the edge rush of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, as well as blitz pick-up responsibilities. The Lions will also likely be without the services of defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who has been impressive in his limited playing time this season. The loss of two talents, as well as less bodies for the defensive line rotation, means that Drew Brees will have ample time to find a target, and that the Lions’ secondary (what’s left of it anyway) will have to cover downfield for extended periods of time.
The New Orleans Saints will take advantage of Detroit’s lack of depth by wearing them down with their prolific passing attack. The more defensive linemen chase the quarterback, and defensive backs chase receivers, the more the fatigue will set in. The Saints also have another explosive weapon to unleash towards this end, in the form of running back Darren Sproles, who creates another matchup nightmare when flexed out as a receiver. He is too fast for a linebacker or safety, so he must be covered with a corner, which means the Lions will have to dig even deeper into their reserves for this contest. Sproles will also be used in the screen game, forcing Lion defensive linemen to chase him all over the field, and negating the aggressiveness of their pass rush.
Other Matchups to watch
New Orleans defensive coordinator Greg Williams is known for his ability to get after the quarterback using various blitz packages. Pressure has had its effect on Stafford at points in the season, as he has often looked jumpy in the pocket following the beating that Vikings defensive end Jared Allen gave him. New Orleans secondary has also been exposed in coverage by good quarterbacks this season, who are able to withstand the pressure, and get rid of the ball on time. There is an opportunity to take advantage of the New Orleans aggressiveness through quickly timed routes and the screen game, but for this to happen, the Detroit offensive line must hold up, specifically on the interior. With solid communication up front, and a strong game plan from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, the Lions should have plenty of opportunities to score. Whether they can match the pace of Drew Brees and the Saint offense remains to be seen.
Rookie first-rounder Nick Fairley will get a chance to shine, and prove why he was worthy of the hype bestowed upon him during the April NFL draft. Fairley has a motor comparable to VandenBosch, and a hunger as impressive as Suh’s. If the Lions hope to leave Louisiana with a victory, Fairley must step in and cause chaos in the offensive backfield. Otherwise, the Lions’ playoffs begin next week against Minnesota.