October 15, 2014

Drew Brees has torched Detroit in the past, but these Lions aren't playing like the team the rest of the NFL has gotten used to seeing.

Boasting the top-ranked defense in the league, the Lions are tied for first place in their division despite the struggles of their usually high-powered offense, and they'll look to keep Brees and the visiting New Orleans Saints in check Sunday.

Brees is 4-0 as a starter against the Lions, completing 75.2 percent of his passes for an average of 379.3 yards with 14 TDs and one interception for a 133.8 rating. He threw for 466 yards and three TDs in a 45-28 wild-card victory over Detroit on Jan. 7, 2012.

Brees' 7.2 yards per attempt is his lowest mark in four years, though he ranks second in the league with 314.8 yards per game. The Saints (2-3) are No. 2 in offense at 442.8.

Detroit (4-2), however, is allowing 270.7 yards per game, its best mark since 1977, and finds itself tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North.

The Lions recorded a season-low 255 yards of offense and converted one of 13 third downs - leaving them at 2 for 24 in the last two weeks - but defeated Minnesota 17-3 on Sunday. Detroit held the Vikings to 212 yards and forced three turnovers.

"All we've got to do is keep doing what we're doing," end Jason Jones said. "We're hungry this year. This is a great opportunity for us."

The Saints come off a bye following a 37-31 home win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 5, but they've lost six straight and eight of nine away from home, going 0-3 this season with two blown fourth-quarter leads. They haven't dropped seven consecutive road games since a 14-game road skid Oct. 18, 1998-Jan. 2, 2000.

"The record is 2-3. Do I think we're better than that? Yes," said center Jonathan Goodwin, expected to return after leaving with a bruised knee against the Buccaneers. "But that's what our record is and we can't change that. But I've still got a lot of confidence in this team, still think we can get some things done this year."

It might be tougher to pull things together Sunday if Jimmy Graham doesn't play. The star tight end is battling a shoulder injury, which prompted him to exit in the first quarter versus Tampa Bay.

Graham expects his playing status to be decided by coach Sean Payton shortly before the game. He practiced this week on a limited basis and is listed as questionable.

"We'll see on Sunday. I actually don't know," Graham said Friday. "Sean said he's going to test it and then see where I'm at. So if I can, I can. If I can't, I can't."

The Saints set a season high for points and yards with 511 against the Buccaneers without Graham, though their defense continued to struggle. They're allowing 379.6 yards per game to rank 23rd, a year after limiting opponents to 305.7 a contest to finish fourth.

New Orleans is tied for third to last with six sacks after their 49 last season were the fourth most in the NFL. Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan have combined for four after totaling 24 1/2 in 2013.

The lack of pressure has resulted in the Saints forcing only one interception, and opposing quarterbacks have posted a 103.2 rating - seventh highest in the league.

"Sacks truly affect quarterbacks' mindsets," Jordan said. "If you put pressure on him, he's uncomfortable. If you sack him, it can change games."

Detroit's Calvin Johnson missed his third regular-season game since the start of 2011 with a high ankle sprain. Coach Jim Caldwell told the league's official website Johnson could miss Sunday's game as well as next week's before the club's Week 9 bye.

The Lions badly need their top receiver on the field to help their 23rd-ranked offense (330.2 ypg). They averaged 399.0 over the past three seasons, never finishing worse than sixth.

Matthew Stafford is on pace for his fewest passing yards in a full season, though he also is in line for a career low in interceptions.

"I came in with the idea that we're going to try to make certain that this team is more about winning than about statistical milestones and I think that's the most important thing that you have to look at," Caldwell said.

Detroit's Reggie Bush sat out last week with an ankle injury but practiced Wednesday ahead of his first meeting with his former team. Bush totaled 4,232 yards of offense and 29 TDs in his first five seasons with the Saints after being selected No. 2 overall in 2006.

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