As an avid watcher/reader of everything NFL, I've noticed a disturbing trend over the course of this week:
Nobody who covers the NFL has a mind of their own.
The amount of group-think going on in regards to the New Orleans vs. Detroit match-up is crazy! In fact, the only "analyst," (and I use that term loosely) in the Lions corner is Mike Greenberg, which, in all honesty, probably doesn't bode well for their chances. Honorable mention goes to two of the most rational men on the ESPN crew, Jon Ritchie and Lomas Brown, who say it will at least be a close game.
To be fair, there's every reason in the world to think that the Saints will beat the Lions. They already beat Detroit at home this season, they haven't lost at the Mercedes-Benz Dome this year, they have an all-universe offense lead by an all-world QB, Detroit is young and unruly, etc.
However, one of the big arguments that every single analyst has used doesn't sit well with me and goes a little something like this:
"Did you see what Matt Flynn did to the Detroit secondary last week in Green Bay? What do you think Drew Brees will do?"
Before I go into my defense of the Lions secondary, let's remember a few things about this Packer team:
- Regardless of who they did or didn't start, this team was out to win this game and came out chucking the ball around. Of their 64 plays, 44 were passes and only 20 were runs.
- Matt Flynn is no mere back-up. Remember last year when he came in and put up 250 and 3 TD's in a close loss to the Patriots? He's in his 4th year and by letting him air it out the Packers just earned themselves a couple of early round picks in a trade (assuming they franchise him, which they will).
- Oh, and by the way, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley would start for just about every team in the league while James Starks is nothing to laugh at.
Can the Lions limit (not stop, that's not possible) the Saints' passing attack?
Now, with all that said, let's move on to the secondary itself. Why is it that one week out of 16 makes the Detroit secondary was so awful? Consider that they were missing the key member of their secondary, Louis Delmas, for the last six weeks of the season, that #1 CB Chris Houston was not healthy and was playing with a knee injury, and that the Lions were without their usual nickel corner and best man-to-man defender in Aaron Berry.
Say what you will about injuries and how that shouldn't affect the team, but in the 10 games that Delmas played the team allowed 211 yards through the air per game. In the six games that he missed because of a knee injury, the number skyrocketed to 332 per game (Credit to Phillip Zaroo at mlive.com for that stat).
To be fair, the level of competition in those six games was clearly better (GB twice, NO, SD), and there were consistently other members of the defense absent, but it speaks to the effect that the leader of the secondary has on this defense.
Look, this group may not be filled with Pro Bowl talent and they may not be a traditionally good cover group, but the secondary has 16 interceptions this season. Add another four from the linebackers and the back seven is among the most opportunistic in the league. Couple that with a defensive line that can pressure QBs without needing to blitz, and you've got a potentially dangerous combination.
Believe it or not, despite Brees' record-breaking season, he has shown the propensity to make mistakes that cost his team. In losses to Tampa Bay and a winless St. Louis team (both with secondaries worse than the Lions, but underrated defensive lines) he threw a combined five picks.
This by no means indicates that the Lions will win their first playoff match-up in 12 years. However, this team is healthy (every member of the starting lineup from week one, except Jahvid Best, practiced Thursday) and I steadfastly believe that this will be a closer and lower scoring game than most believe it will be, and the Detroit secondary will be a big reason why.