Lions vs. Saints: Five things to watch

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

In their last meeting Oct. 15, 2017, the Lions and Saints combined for 90 points. Ninety points.

The Saints accounted for 52 of those points, but it wasn’t just from their dynamic offense. Quarterback Drew Brees had a ho-hum game, going 20-of-30 for 180 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Mark Ingram rushed 25 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns and Alvin Kamara 10 carries for 75 yards.

The bigger surprise in the scoring column was the Saints’ defense, which put three touchdowns on the scoreboard, with a fumble recovery in the end zone by Kenny Vaccaro, a pick-6 by Marshon Lattimore and an interception in the end zone by Cam Jordan.

Although the Lions had won the previous three meetings, the Saints held a 31-10 halftime lead, and the game essentially was over early.

In Sunday’s matchup, the Saints’ defense again will be under the microscope, with some key injuries. Defensive end Marcus Davenport, along with cornerbacks Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins have been ruled out.

The Saints’ run defense ranks sixth in the league, allowing just 100 yards. The bigger issue has been in the pass defense, which allows 252 yards (20th). As a whole, the defense allows 31.3 points per game (tied for 27th) and has a 48.8 percent efficiency on third downs (tied for 30th).

If the Lions are going to have a shot at winning, they will have to reduce the number of points they give up to the Saints defense and take advantage of the shorthanded secondary.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions face the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m., Fox/760):

1. WATCHING KAMARA: Saints running back Alvin Kamara was ridiculous last week against the Green Bay Packers, with 13 catches (on 14 targets) for 139 yards and two touchdowns, plus six carries for 58 yards. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage (438) and touchdowns (6, with three rushing and three receiving). He’ll obviously be the focal point for the Lions’ defense, especially with leading receiver Michael Thomas (high-ankle sprain) out for a third straight game.

2. KEEP THEM HONEST: The Saints haven’t allowed an opposing rusher to get 100 yards in 45 consecutive games. Although the Lions’ run game has gotten better this season with the addition of Adrian Peterson, who has 209 yards in the first three games. Though the focus should be on Matthew Stafford and the passing game, the Lions can’t get away from the ground game and trying to keep the defensive front guessing. When they’ve done this in the past, they haven’t always been successful, but it’s what has to be done.

3. SPREAD IT AROUND: After not having a target the first two games, tight end Jesse James had three catches last week against the Cardinals, including a 5-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. There’s already some good chemistry between Stafford and T.J. Hockenson, who had four catches last week, but ensuring that James at least gets a few targets in addition to the looks he gives the other receivers will be critical for the offensive balance to exploit the Saints’ secondary.

4. IT’S A BREES: There’s been some significant criticism of Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his ability to throw the ball deep down the field. He’s only had three attempts this season that have been more than 20 yards in the air. Some of it can be linked to the absence of Michael Thomas, and the residual impact on finding others to fill the void. It’ll be another week of trying to find other big-play options. In the interim, it’s been a steady diet of short passes to Kamara to fit the bill.

5. SPECIALLY SPECIAL: The Lions have been among the best in the league in special teams, with Jack Fox ranking as the best punter, kicker Matt Prater remaining solid, including the game-winning field goal last week against the Arizona Cardinals and their coverage teams on kickoffs and punts preventing big plays. It’s been an underrated part of their 1-2 start but it’s been keeping them in games.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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