Playoff Preview: 5 keys for Lions and Saints

Posted Jan 4, 2012


Take the Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd out of the mix

Lions fans did a good job making Ford Field one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL this season. But even the Monday Night game against the Bears didn’t reach the volume level of the Superdome earlier this year when the Lions played there on Sunday night in December.

That place gets deafening.

The Saints have been unstoppable at home, setting an NFL record by scoring 339 points (42.4 per game) in their eight home victories.

A quick touchdown or early lead by the Lions could go a long way to quieting the Saints crowd and making the Superdome less of an advantage than it truly is.

Suh needs to have an impact

Suh missed the first meeting while serving the first game of a two-game suspension he received after kicking Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving.

Rookie Nick Fairley stepped up in Suh’s place with a terrific first quarter (one sack and two tackles for loss) but when he left the game due to a foot injury, there was a big void in the middle for the Lions.

Defensive tackle Corey Williams has been great this season, but he’s better with a great player like Suh next to him.

It took Suh eight weeks to register his fourth and final sack of the regular season against the Packers last week and the match-up between him and Saints Pro Bowl right guard Jahri Evans should be one of the better match-ups of the game.

If Suh can have an impact on the stat book, and not just the game, the Lions’ chances of winning go up exponentially.

Manage the blitz

According to ESPN Stats and Information, no NFL quarterback has been blitzed less than Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford this season (23.7 percent). That probably a sign of respect for both him and all the weapons he has at his disposal.

But the Saints are the most frequently blitzing team in the NFL under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

The Lions did a pretty good job against the blitz last time around. Stafford was hit only four times in their last meeting and sacked three times. That’s not bad considering how often the Saints dial-up pressure.

The Packers blitzed Stafford 34.4 percent of the time he dropped back to pass Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Info, and he was 9-of-21 passing for 154 yards and an interception. Against the regular pass rush, Stafford completed 27-of-38 passes for 366 yards, five touchdowns and one interception against the Packers.

Expect the Saints to bring pressure.

Take care of the football and keep penalties down

The Lions will have enough trouble stopping the Saints offense on Saturday. They can ill-afford to give them extra possessions, or worse, a defensive score.

The Lions are 11 in turnover ratio this season and Stafford has been pretty good all year at taking care of the football.

When the Saints last won a Super Bowl in 2009, they led the league in takeaways, but that hasn’t been the case this season.

The Saints defense had just 16 takeaways, the second-fewest in the NFL.

The Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards in the first meeting, which included three 15-yard personal foul penalties and three offensive pass interference calls.

The penalties cost the Lions both yards and points.

The Lions have been penalized 128 times for 1,075 yards this season.

It’s easy; the Lions can't give the Saints any help with turnovers and penalties.

Find an answer to Saints TE Jimmy Graham

Graham (6-6, 260) is a mismatch for every defender he faces. But that was particularly true against the Lions.

Lions safety Amari Spievey and others had a hard time staying with Graham in their first meeting as he finished with eight receptions for 89 yards with six of those receptions good for a first down.

The Lions should have safety Louis Delmas back this week, which makes them a much better team in the back end of their defense. How much that has an effect on containing Graham and all of the other Saints’ receiving weapons is yet to be determined.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will likely have a different game plan for stopping him this time around.


Figure a way to slow down Lions QB Matthew Stafford

To say Stafford is on a roll is a bit of an understatement.

Stafford is coming off a 520-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Packers on Sunday and has thrown for 1,919 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions over his last five games, including the Week 13 loss to the Saints.

Stafford had 408 yards with a touchdown and an interception in their first meeting.

The Saints didn’t get home a lot on their blitzes against Stafford that much in the first meeting (three sacks) and he made them pay for bringing pressure on a number of occasions.

If Stafford has a similar performance Saturday, the Lions have a good chance at an upset.

Don’t let Calvin Johnson beat them

The Saints did a pretty good job on Johnson in the first meeting holding him to 69 yards on eight catches.

Those numbers would amount to a pretty good game for most receivers, but not for Johnson, not this season.

Johnson owns two of the top-three receiving performances this year when he had 244 yards and touchdown against the Packers and 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders.

The scary part about that for the Saints is those two performances has come in the last three weeks.

The Saints rank 30th against the pass and both of their corners measure under six-feet tall.

Johnson has eight 100-yard performances this season. In those games, the Lions are 5-3.

Establish the run

The Lions will have the services of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh this time around, which makes the Lions better in every aspect of their pass and run defense.

That puts more pressure on the both aspects of the Saints' offense.

The Lions are great at generating pressure with their front four but they haven’t always been great this year at stopping the run.

Teams averaged 5.0 yards per rush on the Lions this season and have over 2,000 net rushing yards against them.

The Saints averaged 132.9 yards per game this season but were held to 100 total against the Lions in the first meeting.

The Saints still scored 31 points behind Brees’ 342 passing yards, but getting Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles going, along with the pass game, is a recipe for success for the Saints.

Don’t believe the press clippings

The Saints are undefeated at home.

The Saints are favored by 10.5 points.

The Saints have already beaten the Lions once this season.

No problem, right?


The Lions are getting healthy at the right time and should have their full compliment of players healthy and ready to play.

The Lions were without half their starting secondary (S Louis Delmas and C Chris Houston) the first time around as well as their best defensive lineman (Suh). Defensive Nick Fairley had a monster first quarter but left with an injury and was never the same.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been looking forward to this rematch and said after the loss to the Saints in early December that he couldn’t wait for another chance to play their best against his best.

The Saints are a better team, but don't go in thinking so.

Be better in the red zone

Opponents scored a touchdown 59 percent of the times they reached the red zone on the Saints defense this season.

The only team that was worse in the NFC was the Eagles.

The Saints face a Lions offense that was second in the NFC in red zone touchdown efficiency at 63.8 percent. The Lions scored a touchdown 37 of the 58 times they made it inside an opponents 20-yard line.

The Saints offense scored a touchdown 58.7 percent of the time and the Lions defense allowed a touchdown 49.1 percent of the time.

Which team scores touchdowns and which team is forced to settle for field goals might make all the difference.