Lions’ Den: A shootout looms in The Big Easy

After a tough loss to the Carolina Panthers, the 3-2 Detroit Lions are on their way to The Big Easy to take on the 2-2 New Orleans Saints. Catch the 26th match up between the two teams on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST on FOX.

Coming into the week, the Saints have the seventh best passing offense, 265 yards a game, and the 21st best rushing game, 94 yards a game. Detroit’s defense is going to have its hands full.

The obvious problem when going up against the Saints is their quarterback, Drew Brees. He’s been one of the most deadly players to set on the field over the past decade. In four games, Brees is averaging just under 285 yards a game, two touchdowns and has yet to throw a pick.

Brees’ favorite target has been the sophomore out of Ohio State, Michael Thomas. With 25 receptions, 310 yards and two touchdowns, he will be the Lions’ main concern. Thomas possesses a rare combo of size and speed and has proven to be hard to cover.

So far this year, Thomas has been the only target for the Saints, but that’s all changing. Willie Snead, who was suspended for the first four games, is making his season debut. Snead, showed last year he can be just as dangerous as Thomas, catching 72 passes.

Thomas isn’t the only youngster proving his worth in New Orleans, rookie running back Alvin Kamara is emerging as a real threat. Similar to Detroit’s Theo Riddick, Kamara is a receiving threat. It’s hard to believe with 20 catches on the year so far, but his role in the Saints offense is only increasing.

The main rushing threat is Mark Ingram, especially after the Saints traded Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals earlier this week. Ingram has struggled so far this season, sporting 42.5 yards per game, and his problems should continue this week.

Detroit is the third best team against the run, holding teams to under 75 yards a game. The loss of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will be hard to overcome, but it’s about time A’Shawn Robinson took the reins.

The Lions, as a whole, need a bounce back week, but so do a few individual players.

Darius Slay, Detroit’s No.1 cornerback, had a tough game last week, giving up two touchdowns. This week is going to be harder; Snead and Thomas are better athletes than Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, he needs to be better.

Eyes were lighting up when running back Ameer Abdullah torched a stout Minnesota Vikings defense for 94 yards two weeks ago, but he followed it up with a 31 yard performance. The killer for Abdullah is his inconsistency. This Saints rush defense is horrendous; they’re giving up nearly 110 yards per game. This is his game, he needs to perform in order for the Lions to win.

Remember when Eric Ebron had a great first half against the New York Giants Week 2? It was supposed to be his breakout game, the game he finally turned the corner. Yeah… that didn’t happen.

Ebron has been invisible, to the point where Darren Fells, a tight end brought in to block, is now the most dangerous tight end in the passing game. Fells playing well isn’t a bad thing, but the fact that he is overshadowing and outplaying Ebron is worrisome.

The Saints linebacking corps is similar to the Giants, not very good. Ebron should have a similar performance and if he doesn’t, it may be time for Detroit to move on.  

Outside of the Saints pass rush, who have managed 11 sacks, the defense as a whole is atrocious. Even with a knack of getting to the quarterback, the defense has still managed to give up 265 pass yards a game.

This opens the door for Stafford and his receivers to have a field day. Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate have been consistently average, which is unlike either of them. Jones Jr. had a hot start to the 2016 season and hasn’t seemed to get back to that type of success.

Tate on the other hand is expected to be the No. 1 threat and has fallen short of that mark. He eclipsed 100 yards in Week 1 and hasn’t hit the 60 yard mark since. He’s only had double-digit receptions once and has five or less in three games this year. That needs to change and this is the team to do it against.

Keys to the game

  • Give Abdullah the ball. Just because he doesn’t have early success doesn’t mean Detroit should give up on him. In the two games he’s had more than 15 carries he’s averaging 90 yards, in the three games with 15 or less he gets just 36 per game. The more carries he gets, the better he is. Feed him the rock.
  • Keep Stafford upright. The Lions offensive line has been spotty at best. Going up against one of the better front fours isn’t the greatest, but they are getting better. The weak link is Greg Robinson, so expect Fells to be lined up with him majority of the game to lend a hand.
  • Play a full four quarters. This has been a problem for the Lions all year. They just can’t seem to string together a full game. They’ll be unstoppable for a quarter or two and shut down for the rest of them. That’s the only thing holding this team back.  

Writers Picks

Michael Downes

This game is showing all the signs of being a shootout. This will be a high scoring affair that will come down to defensive play and the run game. The Lions defense is hands down better than the Saints, and while the run game hasn’t been great I still give the edge to Detroit. That being said, I think the Lions won’t be able to break away and this game will come down to the wire, with Detroit edging it out.

Pick: Lions 31, Saints 28

Noah Goad

The Lions and Saints have a history of close games over the past decade or so. This one should be no exception. However, the Lions have owned their past three matchups with the Saints, so I have to give them the advantage here. I have the Lions over the Saints.

Pick: Lions 27, Saints 20.

John Dolan

With an all-time record of 12-12-1, historically, the Lions and Saints are as even teams as you
can get. However, in their past three meetings the Lions have defeated the Saints, including
two wins in the Superdome the past two years. After a disappointing effort last week, the Lions
need to bounce back with a win going into the bye week.

The biggest challenge will be shutting down future Hall of Fame quarterback Brees, especially after Cam Newton torched the Lions secondary last week to the tune of 355 passing yards and three touchdowns. This game will be a big test for Darius Slay; if he can shut down Saints second-year speedster WR Michael Thomas, the Lions will be in good shape.

Still, I think this game will end up being a battle of offenses, with the Lions just pulling out a much needed win going into the bye week.

Pick: Lions 34, Saints 31