Friday, January 6, 2012
Final Word: Lions at Saints
By Kevin Seifert
Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Lions-Saints wild-card game:
Historic battle: I did my best this week to make our preview coverage about the actual game and its matchups, as opposed to just how unprecedented a victory Saturday night would be in recent Lions history. (Here's a link to our handy "Lions-Saints" tag.) But here goes: The Lions are one of two NFL teams never to have won a wild-card playoff game, tallying an 0-6 record since its advent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They haven't won a playoff game of any sort since the 1991 season, and its been 54 years since they've won a playoff game on the road (a 31-27 victory at the San Francisco 49ers in the 1957 Western Conference playoffs). The Lions are 11-point underdogs against a Saints team that hasn't lost at home this season. It's no surprise that the Twitter hashtag #shocktheworld has emerged this week. For any number of reasons, there aren't many people counting on a Lions victory Saturday night.
Brandon Pettigrew has just as many catches (27) as teammate Calvin Johnson over the Lions' past four games.
More than Megatron: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams noted this week that "guys that are 6-5 end up being 5-5 when they get flipped over on their head," an obvious reference to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. But no matter how much attention the Saints pay to Johnson, they'll no doubt be aware of the impressive across-the-board production the Lions got during their 3-1 finish to the regular season. Johnson caught 27 passes and four touchdowns over that span, but tight end Brandon Pettigrew also caught 27 passes, while receiver Nate Burleson had 22 and Titus Young 17. Young scored four touchdowns, Pettigrew two and Burleson one. The Lions aren't likely to win if Johnson gets shut out, but they have the capacity to compete even if he is limited, especially if quarterback Matthew Stafford can beat the Saints' blitz as we discussed earlier this week.
Impact player: As the quarterback, Stafford will have more opportunities to impact the outcome of the game than any other Lions player. But a close second will be any of the Lions' key pass-rushers up front. Whether it's Ndamukong Suh or Kyle Vanden Bosch or Cliff Avril, someone needs to make Saints quarterback Drew Brees uncomfortable in the pocket early and maintain the pressure for the duration. Otherwise, Brees will pick the Lions apart. In the teams' first meeting, the Lions put Brees under duress on only three of his 38 dropbacks. He completed 26 of his resulting 36 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Suh, Vanden Bosch and Avril have each had dominant games at one point or another in their careers. At least one of them must produce another Saturday night.