It already seems everyone is bailing on the Lions. We get it, the Saints are not the Cowboys or Giants, but they are by no means an untouchable team (13-3 is NOT a perfect record). It’s understandable to be concerned about what Drew Brees will do to this Lions secondary after seeing what backup quarterback Matt Flynn did with a skeleton lineup. The Packers weren’t at full strength and playing strategy for the playoffs, but please don’t forget that the four or five key players do not make a team, and there’s a reason they were nearly perfect on the year.
The only thing that seemed to be affected was the secondary without Charles Woodson as Matt Stafford walked all over them, but that’s really it. Do you think Aaron Rodgers only threw to Greg Jennings all year, Clay Mathews got all the sacks and James Starks is the only one who can carry the rock? Do you not think the Packers would stash another phenomenal quarterback behind their starter like they stashed Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre? Flynn is, and never was, a joke of an NFL quarterback. Contrary to what a lot of people think when a starter goes down, not every backup quarterback plays like Caleb Hanie.
Much of what you saw during last weekend’s game against the Packers you won’t see against the Saints. You won’t see Stafford throw for 500 or Calvin catch for 200+. You also won’t see this defense surrender that many yards two weeks in a row because I guarantee you Gunther Cunningham and the rest of the staff won’t let it happen. With the expectations that Louis Delmas will be back in the lineup, the secondary improves some.
Entering the post-season, not much matters besides personnel; it’s a clean slate and everyone’s 0-0. As much as I hate to look at the numbers, it’s important to note that the Saints come in to the playoffs unbeaten at the Superdome and riding an eight game winning streak overall. They also embarrassed the Lions on Sunday Night Football a month back. Since then, the Lions have found their stride again and busted out of that mid-season slump. Look at it like this: the Lions are riding hot with something to prove while the Saints are due for a loss. At least that’s glass-half-full. Take a look back at that Week 13 game in New Orleans, subtract the stupid penalties and I think the Lions pull it off.
Now, on to where the Lions can exploit the Saints. New Orleans ranks 30th in the league in pass defense, giving up 260 yards in the air per game. They are much stronger in defending the run, which is great because Detroit should avoid the run like usual. I’m quite confident that if they can come out strong early like they did against the Packers in Week 17 and turn the game into a shootout, they can score more points than New Orleans.
I haven’t seen Drew Brees make many mistakes while he’s been quarterbacking the Saints. I have seen the Lions secondary make many mistakes. But at times, the defense has shined when pressure is put on opposing quarterbacks. Could they make Brees their Tony Romo 2.0? The Lions’ secondary can either be make or break (see any game Alphonso Smith has played). It’s either what they lean on for big plays or their crux. The Lions are tied for 3rd in the NFL with 34 turnovers from their defense. This will be some kind of upset if the Lions can pull it off. They’ll need the same kind of pass-happy strategy on offense and a quarterback that’s ready to play like he did in Week 17. They’ll need to get lucky and take risks to limit Drew Brees and create more opportunites for Stafford. They’ll need play a smart, inspired, personal-foul-less game.
They’ll need a lot to get the job done, but haven’t they needed a lot to get 10 wins and a playoff spot this year? Don’t sell them down the river just yet- the Lions are ready to turn some heads Saturday night in NOLA.