Lions hope smarter approach a winning strategy in Saints duel
"There's a reason they made us the prime time game Saturday,'' Detroit safety Chris Harris said Thursday. "This is gonna be a good one.''
Detroit-New Orleans II, a rematch in the same building of the Saints' 31-17 win 33 days ago. Why I think it'll be closer (though a New Orleans win), and why I see it as the game of the weekend:
• Detroit won't be as stupid. Mantra around the Lions this week, after they committed 11 penalties for 107 yards (three of them totally moronic) in the first meeting: "Play smart. Eliminate penalties.'' All week, coach Jim Schwartz has told the team, basically, that they'll be in the game for 60 minutes if they don't play dumb. I agree.
• After a terrible start, Detroit's defense played Drew Brees pretty well in Game 1. In the second half of the December meeting, the Saints had the ball five times in the second half. Results: punt, punt, touchdown, punt, lost the ball on downs. Problem was, the Saints had shredded the Detroit D on the way to a 24-7 halftime lead. Brees: 252 yards in the first half, 90 in the second half.
• The cavalry is coming, sort of. Enforcer safety Louis Delmas of the Lions didn't play in that first game. He'll play Saturday night after missing five games with a partial MCL tear.
• Drew Brees might be the hottest quarterback in the league, but he's got competition -- from Matthew Stafford. Average yards passing per game, last five games: Brees 357, Stafford 384.
• The Saints didn't stop the Lions in that first game; the Lions stopped themselves. Detroit outgained New Orleans by 28 yards. Three offensive pass interference penalties on the Lions crippled them, as did two missed Jason Hanson field goal attempts.
Those are the kind of plays, if made differently, that could turn Saturday's game: The Saints held a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter in Game 1, with the ball at their own 33. Brees dropped back, hesitated, looked like he might throw for Jimmy Graham across the middle, but then let fly deep for Robert Meacham, alone on cornerback Eric Wright. The pass was complete, and the cat-quick Meachem juked around Wright for the touchdown.
"They had what we call a 'tank' formation,'' said Harris. "Two tight ends, two backs. And I thought he'd go to Graham, so I jumped the route. If I'd stayed with Meachem, I could have helped Eric, and I don't think that play happens. All my fault. When you have in all of these games only a handful of plays that determine the outcome, you can't make plays like that. In a game like this, you can't have too many 'my bads' this week.''
The Saints have scored 42, 45 and 45 points the last three weeks, and called off the dogs in two of those three games in the fourth quarter. The Lions can, and should, make it a game in the fourth quarter, but only if they play smart and Stafford doesn't make mistakes.
Tall orders for the first Detroit playoff game for everyone on the roster except kicker Jason Hanson, especially with no perceivable running game to help the offense. But I see the Lions in this game deep into the second half. I see the Saints winning, though, because of Brees, his weapons and a much healthier running game than the Saints had a year ago at this time.