Lions vs. Saints: 4 Things to Watch for on Sunday
The Saints finished the season at 13-3 with the NFC South title, whereas the Lions finished at 10-6 and are a Wild Card team in the playoffs. These two teams met earlier in the season, but this should be a much different game.
The teams are different in many ways, including the depth on both sides of the ball, momentum from the last part of their respective seasons and the hunger that surrounds each team to reach the Super Bowl.
At this point, both the Lions and Saints sit at 0-0, and must win three games to get to the Championship, and a fourth to win it. That is all they have to do, just win four games and they will be given a Lombardi Trophy.
The Saints are the team favored to win this game, but both have a shot at doing so. The offenses in this game are very powerful and the defenses are not elite, but can be very well in certain areas of the game. Each team has the talent and potential to get to the big game, but they have to make sure to avoid making dumb mistakes.
The Saints will have the advantage of playing in front of the home crowd, and the Lions will be coming into a rough atmosphere in New Orleans. It is not impossible for a visiting team to win in New Orleans, but no one was able to do it in 2011.
The Saints finished 8-0 at home in the regular season and had an average margin of victory at home of 24.5 points. They beat the Lions by 14 in their first game, and Detroit is sure to want some revenge.
I have already written that I believe that Saints will blow out the Lions, but there are definitely some key matchups that the Saints will need to win in order to do so. However, if the Lions are able to win these individual battles, then they may just walk out of the Superdome with a road playoff victory.
Let's take a look at four things that we should keep an eye on during Saturday Night's game.
Saints Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line
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This will be quite an interesting matchup on Saturday night.
The Saints offensive line has been one of the best in he NFL in recent years, and they did not disappoint in 2011. Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are all headed to the Pro Bowl, and Brian De La Puente and Zach Strief have played well all year.
The Lions will have Ndamukong Suh in this game, whereas in the first meeting he was serving a two game suspension. Nick Fairley has also performed well lately, and Detroit has great defensive ends in Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson.
The Lions will definitely bring pressure with their front four and try to throw off Drew Brees and the Saints' passing game. However, the Saints offensive line is near the top of the league in both sacks allowed and quarterback hits.
Teams rarely get by these guys, and when they do it is still a difficult task to disrupt Brees in the passing game, much less bring him down for a sack. Brees is one the best in the game at avoiding sacks, and he has a knack for stepping up into the pocket to avoid a sack and hit a receiver in the open field.
This matchup will be very important to the game on Saturday night. If the Saints are able to control Suh, Avril and company, then they should have a lot of success in the passing game and running the ball. However, if the Detroit defensive line wreaks havoc on Brees and company, then it will be a very difficult game for New Orleans to win.
The offensive line of the Saints and defensive line of the Lions may win or lose the game for their respective team.
Saints Secondary vs. Matthew Stafford
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This should be a battle worth watching on Saturday night.
In the last game, Jabari Greer and the Saints' secondary did a great job of containing Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He caught only six balls for 69 yards. Other Lion receivers, Nate Burleson and Titus Young, will be expected to step up against the Saints.
Greer, Tracy Porter, Patrick Robinson, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper have gotten a bad reputation in 2011. They do not have the best numbers and all except for Greer and Jenkins have been picked on at times this season. However, this is still one of the most talented secondaries in the league.
The Saints' opponents are normally playing from behind, and therefore throwing the ball a lot and racking up passing yards. The Saints' defensive backs often pay for this. I expect nothing less on Saturday night. I look for the Saints to get out ahead quickly and force Matthew Stafford and the Lions to play catch up.
I also expect the Saints' to give up over 300 passing yards, but I do think that they will step up and make plays in tough situations. One thing that the Saints defense has done all year is make big plays when they absolutely have to and I think we will see some of the same against the Lions.
Stafford and company have the ability to put up over 40 points, but I think the Saints secondary will step up, force a couple turnovers and ultimately help New Orleans come away with a playoff victory.
This matchup may not have a significant impact because it is expected for Stafford and the Lions to win against the Saints secondary, but if the Saints defensive backs are able to win this matchup, then that will bode very well for the Saints' chances of beating Detroit.
Saints Pressure Packages vs. Lions Offense
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The Saints defense is consistent in one area, and that is how often they bring pressure against opposing offenses.
Gregg Williams' defense has blitzed more than any team in the NFL this year. The Saints brought five people or more on 51.1 percent of their defensive plays in 2011. That is a ridiculous rate, and it has been very successful at times this season.
I expect Williams to possibly blitz even more than that against Matthew Stafford and the Lions because Stafford's play is much worse when teams bring pressure. In 2011, when teams brought 5 or more rushers against Stafford his play dropped dramatically.
When going up against the blitz, Stafford does not place better than 13th in the league in any major statistical category.
The Saints will undoubtedly bring the heat against Stafford, and there is simply not enough offensive linemen to stop the blitz. The running game has also been terrible in 2011, which leaves the receivers and Stafford.
The wide receivers and Stafford have been the highlight of the Lions in 2011. However, if the Saints are able to pressure Stafford and disrupt the Lions' passing game, then the Saints will probably blow out the Lions.
This is a very important matchup for both teams, but especially the Lions. If they are unable to stop the Saints' blitz packages, then they may lose their first playoff game in 11 years.
Saints Passing Attack vs. Lions Defense
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This may end up not even being a matchup.
The reason that I say this is because the Saints have made most defenses this year look foolish. They have broken record after record on their way to the best offensive season in NFL history.
The Saints boast the leagues best passing attack and No. 6 rushing attack. They are definitely the NFL's best offense. However, the passing game of the Saints is out of this world.
They are able to hurt a team deep, short and everywhere in between.
The difference is that the Lions have a couple of key guys back in this game. Louis Delmas and Chris Houston will both be playing in this game after missing the first meeting with the Saints.
These two players are very important to what the Lions like to do defensively, and will create a different look for Brees and the Saints than in the first game. However, Brees knows that these guys are back and will account for them as he gets ready for the game.
The Saints will not underestimate the Lions based on the last game, and Brees will have his team ready to take on Detroit. This is a battle that is definitely more important for Detroit because if they are able to win the matchup, then they can probably win in New Orleans.
However, I do not believe that the Saints can lose this matchup. The Lions may be able to slow down Brees and company, but they cannot stop them for four quarters, especially when the Saints are playing in the Superdome.