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NOTEBOOK: Saints good test for Lions' improved defense

Detroit's defense has played much better football over the last five weeks.

Granted, Minnesota (two games), Jacksonville and Houston aren't exactly offensive juggernauts, but Washington is, and the Lions held them to 17 points to kick off this five-game stretch where they've held opponents to under 20 points per game.

But this week will be a true test to see if those numbers can keep trending in the right direction.

The Saints own the No. 1 offense (434.1) in football, the No. 1 passing offense (319.5), the No. 9 rushing offense (114.6) and have scored the second most points per game (30.4).

"They do a wonderful job running the ball and passing it," said Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder, who leads the Lions with seven sacks this season. "One of the top offenses in the league. One of the top quarterbacks (Drew Brees) in the league. It's a great measuring-stick moving forward for us the rest of the season."

Some of the key statistics for the Lions over this five-game stretch have been third-down efficiency, run defense, yards per reception, takeaways and scoring defense. All of those key metrics have been much better over the last month.

The first six games of the season, Detroit's defense was allowing a conversion on third down half of the time. That number dropped to 40 percent the last five games. Over the last two weeks, Minnesota and Jacksonville combined to go 6-for-24 on third down (25 percent).

The Lions have been better against the run, allowing less than 100 yards per contest their last five. Opponents averaged 108 yards on the ground the first six weeks vs. Detroit's defense.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin pointed to the improvement against the run as being one of the big keys for him these last five contests.

"I think we've been trending in the right direction more than five weeks," Austin said. "I think that the biggest thing we've done is we've solidified in terms of our run fits and run gaps.

"We've been holding people down in the run game. I think that helps us tremendously keep points down. We don't allow teams to be two dimensional, so I think that's going to be important."

The touchdowns Detroit's allowed in the red-zone are down over the last five games vs. the team's first six (16 vs. 9), takeaways are up (4 vs. 7) and overall scoring is down (18 TDs vs. 9).

"I think it's just guys doing their job," Austin said. "We've just gotten better.

"We've always played hard. The one thing even when we weren't playing great at the beginning of the year, the one thing we always do is we always play hard and I think that really shows up. The way our guys play and practice it just carries over and you can't help but get better when you continue to work at it the way our guys work at it."


Caldwell said "time's ticking" this week, when asked about the team's plans to designate a player from reserve/injured to the active roster.

The two most likely candidates, linebacker Jon Bostic and running back Ameer Abdullah, have yet to return to practice, though Bostic was seen working on the side with trainers during Wednesday's open practice time.

When either one returns to practice, the Lions will then have 21 days to make a decision on whether they're ready to return to game action.

The NFL season is already in Week 13, which leaves just four games after this week's contest in New Orleans – plus any potential playoff games – for either Abdullah or Bostic to help on the field.

Caldwell's right, time is running short.


Linebacker DeAndre Levy continues to be a limited participant in practice, and his status for Sunday's game in New Orleans is yet to be determined. Game designations are released on Friday.

Levy's been listed as "doubtful" and "questionable" the last two weeks since returning to practice in limited fashion, and has been inactive in both games vs. Jacksonville and Minnesota.

When healthy, he's a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker, one who amassed 270 tackles and seven interceptions combined in 2013-14. But he missed 15 games last season with a hip injury and he's sat out 10 games so far this year with quad and knee injuries.

If Levy isn't able to go Sunday, it will be the 11th-straight game he's missed. Caldwell was asked Thursday if the team regrets not placing Levy on reserve/injured earlier this season after a knee injury was added to his quad injury on the Week 5 injury report.

"I don't regret anything, we do what's best for our team and the player," Caldwell said. "I think obviously he's a talented player, he just hasn't been healthy."

Then Caldwell was asked if the Lions could have been better served by having a healthy player in Levy's roster spot.

"We make the best decisions based upon what we have available to us, which we've done this far and continue to do," he said.

"All we're concerned with is winning. That's all we're concerned with and we're hanging in there pretty decently."

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