Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers talk about what went wrong against the Panthers and what has to go right against the Saints on Sunday. Detroit News
The Lions head to The Big Easy for what they hope will be a celebratory occasion.
After coming up short to the Panthers in a 27-24 loss at Ford Field, Jim Caldwell and his team travel south where they will look to remain perfect on the road and win their fourth consecutive game against New Orleans, including a third straight victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But the Saints (2-2) enter the matchup well-rested and riding a two-game win streak with a defense that, surprisingly, hasn’t been sinful in recent weeks.
Here are 10 things to watch in Sunday’s game (FOX/760 WJR) as the Lions (3-2) look to enter their Week 7 bye with some good vibes:
1. Stafford’s streak: Despite being a full participant at practice all week, Matthew Stafford is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, putting his streak of starting 101 consecutive games in jeopardy. But if history has taught us one thing, it’s that Stafford can play through the pain.
2. Dial it up: If Stafford does start, expect the Saints to come at him early and often with blitzes to make him uncomfortable, which will leave the porous secondary relying on single-man coverage. Likewise, expect the Lions to run a healthy amount of shotgun formations like they did late last week against the Panthers to limit the stress Stafford puts on his ankle on dropbacks.
3. Where’s the protection? Stafford has seemingly spent half his time on the turf as opposing defenses have teed off against him the last two weeks. The Saints have shown an ability to get to the quarterback with 11 sacks and should press the issue again, particularly against the underwhelming left side of Detroit’s line.
4. AA battery: With Stafford less than 100 percent, this is the type of game the Lions will need to rely on running back Ameer Abdullah to help carry the load and take the pressure off the franchise quarterback. Detroit has been successful at getting the ground game on track in road games this year, churning out 138 yards at New York and 97 yards at Minnesota.
5. Next man up: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is gone for the season, which is a huge loss for Detroit’s third-ranked run defense. But Ngata’s absence will open the door for increased opportunities for A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence and Jeremiah Ledbetter as well as new additions Datone Jones and Caraun Reid.
6. Showtime Tate: Nobody seems to have more fun in New Orleans than receiver Golden Tate. Two of his four most productive games of his eight-year career have come against the Saints, with 154 yards in 2014 and 145 yards last season. And going up against New Orleans’ 28th-ranked pass defense leaves plenty of potential for another big game.
7. Falling for Fells: Tight end Darren Fells continues to impress and take advantage of his opportunities. Over the past two games, he has six catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns. He has shown he can be a sure-handed (88.9 catch percentage) and reliable passing option, and could garner more targets against the Saints’ generous pass defense.
8. Feel the Brees: New Orleans’ offense starts and stops with quarterback Drew Brees, and Detroit’s defense will have its hands full trying to keep him in check. Brees has yet to throw an interception and has only been sacked four times this season. If the front four isn’t able to generate some semblance of a pass rush and get a few hits in, it could be one of those days where Brees has his way with the secondary.
9. Slay’s spotlight: Cornerback Darius Slay was effective in shutting down receivers the first four games. Last week against the Panthers, though, he was lit up by receiver Kelvin Benjamin and quarterback Cam Newton and gave up a pair of critical completions. Slay will look to turn the page and bounce back against another tough assignment in Saints receiver Michael Thomas.
10. Cooter’s calls: Detroit’s conservative play calling floundered last week against the Panthers. In a game that should feature a fair share of offensive fireworks, it’ll be worth watching if the Lions and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter take a more aggressive and imaginative approach from the get-go against the Saints.