I proposed five things to watch that might help tell the story of the game between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints. I’m back with a brief discussion of each point with the benefit of hindsight.
1. Turnover Margin
The Lions finished -1 in the turnover battle, although that one turnover came late in the game. While it was a positive that the Lions were able to play most of the game without a turnover, their inability to create a Saints turnover left them without the big defensive play they needed to slow down the Saints offense and give the Lions offense a short field.
2. Kevin Smith
The ankle was a nagging issue throughout the game and had Kevin Smith on and off the trainer’s table all night. He showed some flashes of what we saw from him against the Carolina Panthers but also looked a step slow at times. The ankle clearly was an issue and was too much to allow him to give the Lions offense a consistent threat from the backfield.
3. Defensive Line
Nick Fairley showed why the Lions drafted him last April by dominating the Saints offensive line in the first quarter. Unfortunately, his foot acted up again and limited him from then on. It is really to bad because he was outstanding against the run and recorded his first career sack. Sammie Hill and Corey Williams split the team’s other sack so the defensive tackle rotation was just fine without Ndamukong Suh. Cliff Avril was quiet most of the night while Kyle Vanden Bosch just missed a few opportunities on Drew Brees.
The Saints defense obviously didn’t want Calvin Johnson to beat them. Megatrong routinely found two or three, sometimes four, defenders near by and there just wasn’t room for Stafford to get him the ball. He did manage six receptions on eight targets but there simply weren’t opportunities for anything down the field.
5. The Ultimate Narrative
The Lions did a lot of things in this game that could be taken as positive moving forward. However, their lack of composure in the fourth quarter perpetuates the questions regarding this team’s mental make up and whether they have what it takes to wind up in the NFC playoffs. They had themselves in position to compete with the Saints and threw it away. That is the big story today.