Saints-Lions Preview: Five Questions For New Orleans Against Detroit

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst ISeptember 12, 2009

DETROIT - DECEMBER 21:  Wide receiver Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints scores on a six yard pass in the third quarter as Detroit Lions cornerback Ramzee Robinson #38 attempts to defend on December 21, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Detroit Lions 42-7.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The start of the regular season is upon us.


It has been eight and a half months since the Saints have played a game that was worth something.

Hopes are high in New Orleans because of Drew Brees and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. With all the anticipation, though, we really don't know what to expect.

Will the offense stay healthy this year? Will the running game get going or will Brees again have to drop back and throw it 40 times per game?

Is the defense ready to make a leap forward and be an asset? Is Sean Payton going to stick with the same punter for the whole season or is he already scanning the waiver wire?

While these questions will be answered throughout the season, here are five questions for week one.

How will the running game look with Pierre Thomas out of the lineup?

The Saints announced on Friday that Pierre Thomas, the Saints' starter at running back, is out for Sunday's game. Thomas sprained his MCL during the preseason.

To be honest, the Saints don't need him against the Lions.

While it would be nice to have all of the starters ready for the opening game, Mike Bell should fill in nicely as Thomas' replacement. There is no reason to risk Thomas given the arsenal at Drew Brees' disposal. Save him for next week in Philadelphia.

I expect Bell to be the main guy carrying the ball. He should get anywhere from 15-20 carries while Reggie Bush takes 10-12.

Speaking of Mr. Bush...

Is Reggie's knee finally healthy?

Reggie Bush touched the ball just three times in the preseason and hasn't played in a game in four weeks. Bush has has health issues as he has missed ten games over the past two seasons.

The Saints have been very cautious with Bush during training camp. He has been held out of several contact drills and is often seen icing his surgically repaired knee.

While the Saints don't need him to beat the Lions, it would be a good opportunity for him to shake off the rust. I expect Sean Payton to give him around ten touches just to get Reggie back into the groove of playing football.

How often will Gregg Williams dial up a blitz for rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford?

The opportunity to face a rookie quarterback on a bad team in his first NFL start had got to be a defensive coordinator's dream. Fantasy becomes reality for Gregg Williams as he puts the finishing touches on what should be an aggressive game plan.

For all the talent he faced in the SEC, Matthew Stafford has never faced the complexity of an NFL defense. To confuse Stafford, I'm looking for Williams to call a number of blitz packages.

The Saints can afford to blitz often because the Lions possess just one vertical threat, wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Speaking of Mr. Johnson...

How well will the Saints defend against wide receiver Calvin Johnson?

As terrible as the Saints' secondary performed last year, they actually held Johnson to one of his worst performances of the season. Johnson caught just four passes for 64 yards in the week 16 New Orleans victory.

Johnson, though, is one of the most feared receivers in the game. Johnson led the league with 12 touchdowns and was fifth with 1,331 receiving yards. He did all of this as the only offensive threat on a win-less team.

Johnson could approach Randy Moss' 2007 numbers if he had Brees, Brady, or Peyton Manning as his quarterback.

Can the defense keep up the turnover pace it set in the first three preseason games?

The Saints were near the bottom of the league in forcing (29th) and recovering (26th) fumbles. Forcing turnovers has been a point of emphasis for Williams and it shows.

New Orleans forced three turnovers in each of its first three preseason games and forced one while playing mainly reserves in the final preseason game.

The Saints pass rushers should be looking to strip Stafford of the ball every time they get near him. The secondary, led by veteran safety Darren Sharper, will be trying to confuse the rookie as much as possible with a variety of looks.

I expect the Saints defense to get two or more turnovers against a rookie quarterback and a team that fumbled 31 times last season.

Final Prediction

The Lions are more talented this year but so are the Saints. I'm not sure how often a rookie quarterback wins his first start on the road, but it can't be a very high number.

New Orleans has high expectations this season. If they are to make the playoffs, they have to win the games like this one that they are supposed to win.

New Orleans 38, Detroit 13


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