Friday, December 2, 2011
So, about that Lions-Saints matchup ...
By Kevin Seifert
Some of you were upset this week as our focus on the Detroit Lions centered around the suspension of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Via Twitter, @niknicaj wrote: "How about you stop posting articles about Suh and post some about this big game ahead. I'm sick of hearing about Suh."
I understand the desire to move on, but I also caution you to be careful what you wish for. Let's just say the Lions will face a steep challenge in Sunday night's nationally televised game at the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are 5-0 at home this season and have scored at least 40 points in three of those games. Overall, they've outscored opponents 208-93 at the Superdome, and the Lions will face them with three defensive starters expected to be sidelined.
In addition to Suh, the Lions have practiced all week without safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee). All told, their absences could force a significant shift in the Lions' defensive philosophy.
To this point, the Lions have been one of the NFL's least aggressive defensive teams when it comes to the blitz. With Suh leading a powerful defensive line, the Lions have been able to field the league's sixth-ranked pass defense despite rushing four or fewer men on 79.3 percent of opponent's dropbacks. Their blitz percentage of 20.7 is the third-lowest in the NFL.
Every NFL team would love to rely on their defensive line to that extent, thereby maximizing the players devoted to coverage. But without Suh, and especially against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Lions might have to change their approach.
Suh has a modest three sacks this season, but he has drawn substantial attention away from the rest of the Lions' defensive linemen. Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Nick Fairley are no slouches, but they will face less favorable matchups at times Sunday night.
And as the chart shows, Brees has torn up teams this season that have tried to sit back in coverage. The Lions will not only face a stiff opponent Sunday night, but they'll also be forced out of their defensive comfort zone. It will be a tough assignment, to say the least.