Saints vs. Lions: 5 Things to Watch for on Sunday Night Football
Here we go again.
Another week and another nationally televised game against a playoff contender. The Saints seem to be a different animal on national television. They have had three games seen by the whole country this year. The first was a nail-biter against the Green Bay Packers to open the season, and the Saints lost that one by eight points.
However, the last two have been absolutely dominated by the Saints and I expect nothing less this week. Granted, the past two national games came against a winless Indianapolis Colts team and a New York Giants team that seems to be spiraling downward. However, 111 points for the Saints compared to 31 against in those two games is impressive.
The Lions are very different from the Giants and Colts. They are more comparable to the Packers. They can put up points, play solid pass defense and get after the quarterback. This game will be yet another tough test for the New Orleans Saints.
Drew Brees and company will have their hands full with the 7-4 Lions rolling into the Superdome angry after a Thanksgiving Day loss to the division-rival Packers.
I have already predicted the Saints to take the Lions out this week, but there are still some things that need to happen so that the Saints can get their fourth straight victory.
Let's look at five matchups the Saints need to win to dominate the Lions in Week 13.
Saints' Offensive Line vs. Lions' Defensive Line
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For the second straight week, the Saints are facing a team that is currently top 10 in the NFL in sacks.
The play of the Saints' offensive line is also the most important factor of the game for a second straight week.
Even without Ndamukong Suh, the Lions have a dangerous defensive line. Kyle Vanden Bosch and company still have the ability to rush the passer and force mistakes. Cliff Avril comes into the game with seven sacks on the year and Vanden Bosch is close behind with six. The Lions' edge rushers have caused havoc all year and have helped to create the fourth most turnovers in the NFL.
We all know why it is important to protect Drew Brees and establish a run game. Since the Rams put up six sacks on Brees, the offensive line has not allowed a sack. I expect that streak to continue in this game.
How well the Saints' big guys play in the trenches will go a long way in determining the winner of this game. After watching Brees shred the Giants last week, the Lions will want to pressure him early. If the Saints are able to buy Brees time and open holes for the running backs, then the Saints should be able to cruise to another easy victory in the national limelight.
Saints' Running Backs vs. Lions Defense
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If there was ever a game in which the Saints offense may depend more on the run than the pass, this is it.
The Saints will definitely want to come into the game Sunday night running the ball. Just as it did against the Giants, the run game will slow down that vicious pass rush and allow Brees and the passing game to open up more.
With how physical this Lions' front seven is, I would expect to see a heavy dose of Mark Ingram early. Ingram is the Saints' true power back and he can wear down a defense like Who Dat faithful remember Deuce McAllister doing. Sproles will get some touches and change up the pace of the game. I also expect to see Pierre Thomas used in the screen game early and often. Thomas may be the NFL's top back when it comes to the screen game.
I will predict that Ingram has the most carries, but Sproles will get the most yards on lesser carries and a couple of touchdowns. Thomas will be the leading receiver out of the backfield.
The play of the offensive line will determine how successful the Saints' rushing attack is, but the Lions are coming in with the NFL's 23rd-ranked rushing defense. The Saints could easily hit over 300 rushing yards if they wanted to, but I expect to see something closer to the 175-200-yard range.
Saints Receivers vs. Lions Secondary
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We are kind of building ourselves a set of dominoes right now.
If the Saints' offensive line plays well, then the running game will explode. The next step is this:
If the Saints start off fast running the ball, then look for the play-action pass deep down the field to either Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson. Both of these speedsters have made careers out of catching the deep ball. I look for either one of these guys, or even both, to catch a few passes deep down the field.
Once the running game gets going, it will leave the Lions' sixth-ranked passing defense susceptible to the deep throws downfield. Despite what the critics may say, Drew Brees throws a very good deep ball and he has had a ton of practice with these two guys.
The success of the Saints' run game will also allow Brees to have more time in the pocket which is a dangerous thing for the Lions. We all know that Brees will dice up any defense if given time, no matter the scheme or talent on that side of the ball.
Both Henderson and Meachem have been relatively quiet for the last couple of weeks, where as Graham and Colston have been tearing it up. The Lions will likely key in on Graham, Colston and the run game, and ultimately allow Meachem or Henderson to run right by them.
Now, I am not forgetting Lance Moore. Moore will be a big factor in the underneath routes after Henderson or Meachem catch a few deep balls. Brees will start to connect with Moore for seven yards here and nine yards there, driving down the field.
Graham and Colston cannot be stopped for a whole game, so I expect them to have some catches as well. We know that Brees does not feel satisfied until every person on the team catches at least two passes.
I expect Meachem or Henderson to have their best game of the year, and the other to make numerous plays.
Saints' Special Teams vs. Field Position
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Special teams is the title for this slide, but the Saints' special teams really comes down to one player: Thomas Morstead.
Since being drafted in 2009, Morstead has been golden for the Saints. He leads the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs with 46. The closest behind him is Billy Cundiff at 38. Morstead also is third in the NFL with a 42.5 yard net average on punts.
Morstead will be important in this game because of his ability to pin teams deep in their own territory. It is imperative that the Saints win the field position battle of this game. We know that the Saints offense can score from anywhere, but the defense will need some help in stopping the Lions' sixth-ranked passing offense.
If the Saints are able to put the Lions at their own 20, or deeper, every possession, then that will allow Gregg Williams to be more creative with his blitz packages. The Saints will be able to get after Matthew Stafford more effectively and hopefully confuse him early and often.
Morstead will likely have minimal chances to punt the ball, but he will have plenty of chances to kick off, and we know what happens when Morstead kicks off. I expect touchback after touchback for the Saints' special teams, and frustration to surround Stafford and the Lions offense.
Not to mention, Darren Sproles is about due for a kickoff or punt-return touchdown. Look for him to have plenty of punt-return chances and a couple of chances on kickoffs. Either way, I would not be shocked to see him take one to the house on Sunday Night Football.
Jabari Greer vs. Calvin Johnson
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This matchup could be titled: 5'11" vs. 6'5".
However, do not let Greer's short stature fool you. Any Saints fan would know that Greer may be the most underrated corner in all of pro football. He is listed under six foot, but he plays like he's well above it.
I expect for Greer to have the responsibility of covering Megatron throughout the majority of this game, and I think he will handle it fairly well. Stafford feeds off of how well Johnson is doing, and if Greer can maintain and frustrate Calvin Johnson, then that will fluster Stafford as well.
I have no doubt that the Saints watched how the Packers Tramon Williams shut down Johnson last week and took some great notes. Greer is every bit as capable as Williams, and should show the world on national television why he deserves to go to a Pro Bowl.
We have already discussed how the Saints should be able to pin the Lions deep on most drives and that will help Greer greatly. Gregg Williams will be able to send more pressure and stick Greer on Johnson with Malcolm Jenkins over the top. I expect to see Greer come away with at least one interception in this game.
Stafford is not past the point of hazardous throws, and I believe that he will make one in the middle of this game. Greer will be able to step right in front of it and possibly take it back for a pick six.
I am not saying that Johnson will not have catches in this game, but he will not overwhelm the Saints defense. I think that this matchup will play out to the favor of Greer and the Saints, not necessarily because Greer completely shuts down Johnson, but because his job will be made easier by the other factors in this game.