With the Carolina Panthers (3-2-1) playing in Green Bay and the Atlanta Falcons (2-4) traveling to Baltimore this Sunday, the New Orleans Saints could, incredibly, find themselves tied for the NFC South lead on Sunday afternoon if they can accomplish a not-so-simple task: win their first road-game of the 2014 National Football League season.
The Saints travel to Ford Field to face the Detroit Lions, a team that boasts the NFL's best defense so far this year. Sean Yuille, the managing editor of Pride of Detroit tells us a bit more about the Lions and gives us his prediction for the game.
Canal Street Chronicles: After being middle of the pack last year (Detroit was ranked 14th in the NFL in total defensive DVOA in 2013), the Lions' defense has been the absolute best in the NFL so far this year and seems at last, to be living up to the talent on its defensive roster, especially in the front four. What has spurred this sharp improvement?
Sean Yuille : Teryl Austin. The Lions' new defensive coordinator has installed a scheme that is getting the most out of the Lions' defensive players. That was never really the case under Jim Schwartz. Under Austin, the Lions are getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they're shutting down opponents on the ground and they're surprisingly limiting big plays in the passing game. Austin was quite possibly the biggest acquisition for the Lions this past offseason.
CSC: Inversely, Detroit's offense is only ranked 22nd in the NFL so far (21st passing with an 8.3% DVOA and 22nd in rushing -16.5%). This is most surprising for a team with a QB like Matt Stafford and weapons like Megatron, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush. What has been the cause of this slow start offensively for the Lions?
SY: There are really a few main factors. For starters, the Lions are still adjusting to a new scheme, and unlike on defense, it's taking some time to get everybody on the same page. On a related note, the offensive line has been an absolute mess this season. Communication issues have seemingly caused these problems more than anything, and that likely goes back to the new scheme. Finally, Matthew Stafford simply hasn't been good enough. He's not quick enough with his decisions, and he's just not making enough plays. In fairness to him, it's tough to play well when you're constantly under pressure, but some of the blame belongs to him.
CSC: What is the status of Calvin Johnson for Sunday's game? And if he's not able to suit up, how do the Lions plan to try and fill his enormous shoes?
SY: Johnson seems to be on the sit-out-practice plan again this week. Last week was the first time this season he missed all three of the Lions' practices leading up to a game, and it was no surprise that he didn't play as a result. With his ankle injury still bothering him, I'd be a bit surprised if he returns this week.
If Johnson does indeed sit out Sunday's game, the Lions will utilize a group effort to replace him. Golden Tate will become the primary receiver, but the Lions will try to get Eric Ebron, Corey Fuller, Jeremy Ross and their running backs involved in the passing game to keep their offense running smoothly.
CSC: When New Orleans has the ball, who is the Saints player that Lions fans are most concerned about apart from quarterback Drew Brees?
SY: Jimmy Graham would be the obvious answer if he was healthy. Since he's not, I guess I'd go with Brandin Cooks. The Lions obviously have to keep Marques Colston in check, but it's just as important to keep the rookie from having a breakout type of performance.
CSC: How do you see this game play out? Who wins it and why?
SY: On paper, the matchups seem to favor the Lions. The Saints have a high-powered offense, even without Graham, but the Lions defense has been quite solid so far this season. And on the other side of the ball, the Saints have a defense that has struggled at times this season. Between that and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's familiarity with the Saints, perhaps this will be the week the Lions finally get things turned around on offense, regardless of whether Megatron plays or not.
With that in mind, I expect the Lions to win on Sunday. I still think there will be struggles on offense for them, but I expect the defense to do just enough to give Detroit the win. I think it'll be a close game that comes down to the wire, but since it's at Ford Field, I give the Lions the edge.
Many thanks to Sean for taking the time to talk with us. For more on the Detroit Lions, please visit Pride of Detroit.