Film review: How the Lions bottled up Drew Brees

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News

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. 

Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin celebrates intercepting a pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

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. 

Detroit's open-field tackling was excellent. On this play, cornerback Nevin Lawson forced receiver Brandin Cooks toward the sideline, dropping him for a short gain.

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. 

While cornerback Darius Slay drove down on the underneath route, safety Glover Quin undercut Brandin Cook's deep route along the sideline for an interception.

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. 

Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah recognized the screen pass and dropped into coverage after the Saints let Haloti Ngata into the backfield unblocked.

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.

Drew Brees should have had a touchdown at the end of the first half after his pass just got past the outstretched hands of safety Rafael Bush, but the tight end dropped the throw.

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. 

Drew Brees had a 20-plus yard gain open to him underneath, but went for a home run ball that was broken up by Glover 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.