Film review: How the Lions bottled up Drew Brees
Allen Park -- It was supposed to be a shootout. The Detroit Lions' defense wasn't supposed to have answers for a New Orleans Saints offense that put up 49 points the week before. But those narratives were flipped on their head when the Lions limited Drew Brees and company to 13 points and held the quarterback out of the end zone at home for the first time in more than seven years.
So how'd the Lions do it? A review of the film shows it was a combination of minimizing coverage breakdowns, timely plays from the pass rush, a couple of breaks and a few uncharacteristic bad decisions from Brees.
For this film study, we ignored the Saints' final drive. It's irrelevant because the Lions had the game in hand and were conceding short throws to run out the clock. The only thing that mattered was Miles Killebrew's game-ending interception, which ensured Brees would finish without a touchdown pass.
Prior to that possession, Brees was 22-for-34 for 236 yards and two interceptions, good for a passer rating of 60.4. For perspective, Jets starter Ryan Fitzpatrick has the worst mark in the NFL at 70.7.
Let's take a look at the factors that made the Lions' performance possible.
First, the coverage. Detroit's cornerbacks did a nice job limiting the Saints outside receivers. And even when they conceded some short receptions, which they're coached to do, the tackling was solid. Nevin Lawson was twice able to bring down speedy Brandin Cooks in space without help.
That outside coverage forced Brees into making plenty of check-down throws and the Lions did a nice job of limiting the damage after the catch, missing just one tackle on pass plays.
The safeties also did nice work, coming up with both interceptions. An excellent defensive call put Glover Quin in position to undercut a deep pass intended for Cooks on a double move down the sideline. And Tavon Wilson picked off Brees late in the fourth quarter when he made a leaping grab on a slightly under-thrown ball to tight end Coby Fleener.
In the middle of the field, the linebackers consistently showed discipline on play-action and misdirection, allowing them to be in position to effectively cover the middle of the field. That's been an area of weakness for the Lions this season.
Middle linebacker Josh Bynes, filling in for Tahir Whitehead, helped the Lions disguise and execute a handful of blitzes, coming up to the line of scrimmage before the snap, before dropping back and taking away Brees' hot read in the slot as the team brought extra pressure from the edge with a defensive back.
The pass rush showed improvement, but was limited by how quickly Brees typically rids himself of the ball. The front four did record four hits on the quarterback and a fifth was wiped out by a penalty. But the group's performance wasn't limited to its rush. A'Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata each batted down a pass intended for an open receiver, Ziggy Ansah and Ngata blew up a screen pass, and Robinson and Kerry Hyder each made plays to stop a pair of screens for short gains.
Finally, the Lions did benefit from some luck and bad decisions. Brees threaded a perfect pass to Fleener at the end of the first half, but the tight end dropped the would-be touchdown.
And on the one time the Lions bit hard on play-action, Brees sacrificed a chunk play to Michael Thomas running free on a crossing route. Instead of taking the easy 20-plus yards, the quarterback threw a bomb to Cooks only to see the pass broken up by Quin.
Detroit won't complain about the breaks, but the group deserves credit for creating their own throughout the afternoon. It was as fine a defensive performance as could be expected against the most-accurate quarterback in NFL history.