Spread: New Orleans (3-0) by 7 ½ at Detroit (0-3)
Where: Ford Field - Field Turf (Detroit, Michigan)
Saints Head Coach: Jim Haslett
Division: NFC South
Rosters: Lions | Saints
Links: In-Depth Pre-Game Stats | Message Board | Pre-Game Chat
Potential. After beginning their second consecutive season 0-3, the Detroit Lions garnered something that hasn't been uttered by the media nor fans in two years. Potential. Real, rock solid, potential. And you can thank rookie quarterback Joey Harrington and linebacker Chris Claiborne for providing it.
Despite last week's 37-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Detroit displayed sparks of brilliance. After a slow start offensively, the Lions -- led by Harrington and running back James Stewart -- began to gel. The offense seemed to work cohesively at certain stages in the game, and defensively, middle linebacker Chris Claiborne was a one-man wrecking crew. It's just too bad he didn't play in the secondary as well.
Detroit faces a formidable opponent in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, a team that is undefeated and reclaiming the lost glory it obtained in 2000. The Saints are loaded offensively, with a relatively weak defensive line. Below are our 5 keys to beating the New Orleans Saints.
1. DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE
Former Lions' defensive coordinator Vince Tobin is probably grinning somewhere in Arizona.
After three games, the Lions' defense has given up an average of 39 points per game this season, and a pathetic 405.3 yards per outing (second-to-worst in NFL). This is a combination of poor secondary play, and the inability of the Lions' front four to reach the quarterback. The Lions have just one sack this season (FS Brian Walker), and one interception (MLB Chris Claiborne), go figure. Each unit has struggled mightily, and with the Saints (30 PPG) marching into Motown, the game could be over by halftime.
Last week, Chris Claiborne stepped up with 10 tackles, an interception and one pass defensed. A former first round pick by Detroit, Claiborne has to make this a routine performance, not just an occasional good weekend. Claiborne will also need help from his teammates, and in particular, Chris Cash, Andre Goodman, Todd Lyght, Luther Elliss, Robert Porcher, Kelvin Pritchett, Kalimba Edwards and James Hall. This defense looked solid during the pre-season, and has yet to show any vital signs since. Everyone needs to step up.
The secondary will have its hands full with Saints' wide receivers Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth, and running back Deuce McAllister is a rising star in the league. Meanwhile, the Lions' aforementioned front four will have to deal with the scrambling ability of quarterback Aaron Brooks -- who has also completed 60% of his passes.250.3
2. BALANCED OFFENSE
Joey Harrington looked like a rookie last Sunday, but experience will eventually pay off. Harrington will get better each game he is on the field, but he will require a balanced offense, something the team failed to do last week.
Last week, Lions' running back James Stewart made several explosive plays, but only ran the ball 14 times. He is averaging 4 yards per carry, and should touch the ball at least 20 times a game. If Stewart can be a factor, Harrington will be given room to operate in the secondary.
3. CONTAIN AARON BROOKS and DEUCE MCALLISTER
When Saints' QB Aaron Brooks decides to run -- in the pocket or otherwise -- he is as dangerous as any quarterback in the league. Brooks can throw on the run, and generally finds his targets when either a cornerback or a safety attempts to cheat. Like Favre last week, Brooks will find the open target when he is scrambling. It is up to the defensive line and linebacker core to prevent that from happening.
Rookie defensive end Kalimba Edwards will see playing time on Sunday, and could use his speed to help contain Brooks. The defensive line will have assistance from capable linebackers Barrett Green and Chris Claiborne to keep Brooks in the backfield, and if they are successful, will nullify a damaging attribute in the Saints arsenal.
If Brooks doesn't run, Saints' RB Deuce McAllister just might be forced to do his job.McAllister is averaging 4 yards per carry, and had a 62-yard run earlier this year already. He has a north-to-south mentality, but isn't afraid to make defenders look silly on occasion. The defensive line has yet to shut down a running game this year, this will be the game to do it.
4. SPEED KILLS ... SO STOP IT!
As mentioned previously, the Lions will have their hands full with the wide receiver core of Joe Horn, rookie Donte' Stallworth and Jerome Pathon. All three have incredible speed and a run-after-the-catch ability. This could spell the end for Detroit if the secondary allows the receivers get behind them.
Horn, a budding All Pro and immutable trash talker, has 20 receptions for 270 yards and Stallworth has tallied 12 receptions for 165 yards. While Horn can back up his talk, Stallworth isn't the most sure-handed receiver. The rookie has the tendency to run before he catches the ball, but if he happens to remember to catch the pass, the cornerback has to tackle immediately -- otherwise Stallworth is gone.
Both of the Lions' rookie corners (Chris Cash and Andre Goodman) struggled last week with speedy Packers' WR Donald Driver, who doesn't have near the talent of Horn or Stallworth. If they struggle again, the Saints will blow out the Lions. However, if they eliminate the big play by receiving consistent help from the safeties, they can make New Orleans work for its yards.
5. EXPLOIT SAINTS DEFENSIVE LINE
The Saints' defensive line is allowing 97.4 rushing yards per contest, but that isn't their primary weakness -- they quite simply aren't that fast. Last week, James Stewart showed the damage he can do when given appropriate blocking on a screen pass. If Stewart gets into the secondary, he becomes a one-man wrecking crew. The Saints aren't incredibly quick at either linebacker or the defensive line, and Stewart could easily become the x-factor in this contest -- both running and receiving.
If Stewart can get more than 20 carries, and touch the ball on the screen pattern several times on Sunday, the Lions' offense could do enough damage to make a game out of it. Remember, an effective running back can single-handedly open up the offense. This is where Harrington can thrive.