The Detroit Lions hit the road for the first of two straight road games to take on the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome this afternoon. It's a big game for both teams as the Saints try to keep pace with the Falcons for first place in the NFC South. Detroit's looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season and extend their lead in the NFC North to three games over the Vikings.
Here are five things to look out for in today's matchup:
1. BACK TOGETHER?
Starting left guard Jonah Jackson was back to being a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday and that's a good sign he could be back in the lineup today after missing the last two games with a wrist injury. Jackson was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. That would be good news for a Detroit offensive line coming off arguably its most uneven performance of the year on Thanksgiving against the Packers. Detroit rushed for 140 yards, but in pass protection they allowed three sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
That's a pretty prideful group in the o-line room and they'll be looking for a bounce-back performance with their starting five – Taylor Decker, Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow and Penei Sewell – potentially starting together for just the third time this season.
2. BALL SECURITY
The Lions have made it an emphasis this week and we've seen it in the portion of practice open to the media after Detroit turned the ball over seven times in their last two contests. Quarterback Jared Goff in particular talked this week about being more careful with the football, especially when he breaks the pocket.
The Saints' defense enters today's contest second in the NFL with 14 interceptions and tied for fourth with 20 takeaways total. It's an opportunistic group and the last thing the Lions want to do on the road is give the Saints extra possessions and short fields due to their mistakes.
3. PASS RUSH
The Lions could certainly use more of it.
Aidan Hutchinson is second in the NFL behind only Micah Parsons (47) and Maxx Crosby (47) with 46 hurries on the season. He'd like those to lead to more than the 5.5 sacks he has on the season but he's dealing with a lot of double teams and chips because the Lions haven't been able to have someone else on the other edge consistently step up and make plays. They've been getting a good rush from the interior with Alim McNeill, but they need a third player to step up.
One player defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked about this week was second-year defensive lineman Josh Paschal. The second-round pick last year has been good in the run game setting the edge, but Glenn said he wants to see more pass-rush prowess from Paschal to help alleviate some pressure off Hutchinson. Paschal is still looking for his first sack this season. The Lions rank 26th on the year with just 23 sacks.
4. RED ZONE
The red zone will be a big aspect of this afternoon's contest. The Saints racked up 444 yards of offense last week against the Falcons but lost, 24-15, because they were 0-for-5 in the red zone and had to settle for five field goals. For the season, New Orleans ranks just 29th in the NFL converting in the red zone 42.5 percent of the time. Saints head coach Dennis Allen said that's been a big emphasis after it cost them the game last week.
New Orleans squares off against a Lions' defense that's just 30th defending the red zone. Detroit's allowing a touchdown 68.6 percent of the time.
"That's a situation where there's really a lot of one-on-one situations where you've got to win because there's not a lot of space and you can't really just play zone, so you have to really match up with guys," Glenn said of his unit's red zone defense this week.
"And we've got to understand where our help's at also, alright. So that goes in with the players just executing and that's us making sure we put those guys in the right positions, so any time you're in the red zone, it is basically one-on-one. We know the ball's coming out quick, or you've got to hunker down because the best teams that happen in the red zone, are the teams that can run the ball, so we know we have to be better in that area."
View photos from the Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, November 30, 2023.
5. WITHOUT ANZALONE
Detroit will be without their defensive captain and leading tackler as the hand injury veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone suffered on Thanksgiving vs. the Packers will prevent him from playing today. That means the Lions are going to need some players in that room to step up.
Chief among them is rookie MIKE linebacker Jack Campbell. He's expected to call the plays and get the defense into the right checks, with assistance from veteran Derrick Barnes. We could also see Malcolm Rodriguez and Jalen Reeves-Maybin more involved on defense too. This is a big opportunity for Campbell in particular.
The Saints have a good offense with some dynamic weapons, chief among them running back Alvin Kamara and all-everything quarterback/tight end/running back/receiver Taysom Hill. Lions head coach Dan Campbell talks all the time about this being a next-man-up business and that will have to be the case at linebacker for the Lions' defense today.