James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down Sunday’s Lions-Saints game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome (1 p.m. FOX/760 WJR).
SAINTS TO WATCH
Drew Brees, QB: The 17-year veteran shows no signs of slowing down. He ranks third in the NFL in passer rating (108.3) and completion percentage (69.1 percent), and fourth in passing yards per game (283.8). In six career regular-season games against the Lions, Brees has thrown for 2,060 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, with three of those picks coming in last year’s meeting.
Michael Thomas, WR: With Brandin Cooks gone, Thomas has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 option in New Orleans’ fourth-ranked air attack. The second-year pro is an explosive downfield threat who has a knack for forcing missed tackles and the ability to sky above defenders to haul in passes. He leads the team with 25 receptions for 310 yards and two scores through four games.
Alvin Kamara, RB: The versatile rookie has emerged as a legitimate playmaker in the backfield. Kamara is averaging a healthy 5.5 yards per carry and is the team’s second-leading receiver with 20 catches for 147 yards. He also ranks sixth in the league with a 24-yard average on kickoff returns and is averaging 6.6 yards per touch from the line of scrimmage.
■ Limit the hits: Matthew Stafford has taken a beating the past two weeks, thanks in large part to Detroit’s leaky offensive line that has allowed 12 total sacks against the Vikings and Panthers. Stafford is dealing with an ankle injury and his limited mobility could be a factor, which puts the onus on the line to suppress the pocket pressure and keep edge rusher Cameron Jordan in check.
■ Get some push: The Lions’ defensive line struggled to generate much of a pass rush last week and will be without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for the rest of the season, which will hamstring the run defense. The front four will need to put Drew Brees under duress and force him to make a couple bad decisions, or else it could be another a long day.
■ Open the playbook: It’s no secret the Saints will look to air it out and push the envelope on offense against the Lions’ 27th-ranked secondary. Detroit’s conservative play calling lacked creativity and risk last week, but New Orleans’ 28th-ranked pass defense should offer the Lions plenty of chances to attack its generous secondary.
■ Force the issue: The turnover well ran dry for the Lions’ defense last week and forcing a takeaway or two could be hard to come by against the Saints, who are the only team in the league without a turnover. The Lions rank third in the NFL with 11 takeaways but Brees, amazingly, has yet to throw an interception despite averaging 38 pass attempts a game.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ In two road games this season, the Lions’ defense has given up 17 total points, the best mark in the NFL.
■ In his past three games against the Saints, WR Golden Tate has recorded 24 receptions for 344 yards and four TDs.
■ With another turnover-free game, the Saints would become the first NFL team since the addition of the forward pass in 1933 to not turn the ball over through the first five games of a season.
■ The Saints have allowed the fewest sacks (four) in the NFL, while the Lions are tied for the fourth-most (18).
■ Matthew Stafford’s plus-eight TD-INT ratio (nine TDs, one INT) is the third-highest through five games in Lions history. Likewise, Drew Brees has thrown eight TDs with no INTs through four games for the Saints.
■ The Lions have won the past three meetings and snapped Brees’ NFL-record streak of 60 straight home games with a TD pass in last season’s victory.