Keys To The Game: Stafford And Lions Make Statement In Superdome

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The Lions Showed Their Mettle In A Road Win Against The Saints.

In arguably the most important game of the season, the Detroit Lions came away with a dominant 28-13 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Getting off to a quick start, the Lions turned a short field off of a botched New Orleans snap on their opening drive into a Matt Prater field goal, going up 3-0 early. Detroit got the ball back less then three minutes later, leading a long drive featuring a beautiful contested catch deep by Golden Tate. Capped off by a goal line pass to Theo Riddick and just like that Detroit went up 10-0 early in the second quarter.

The teams would trade field goals back and forth on the last three drives of the quarter, resulting in a 13-6 Detroit lead at half. To start the third quarter the Lions got yet another field goal on the back of a huge 36 yard gain from newly activated wide receiver T.J. Jones and followed it up with a huge Glover Quinn interception. Toe tapping on the sideline mid way through the Saints next drive leading to, you guessed it, another Matt Prater field goal, and a 19-6 lead.

New Orleans would finally respond at the start of the fourth quarter with a one yard John Kuhn touchdown run after three back to back double digit yard gains put the Saints deep in lions territory. Tightening the score to 19-13. Detroit was quick to respond however, as Mathew Stafford recognized a poorly disguised Saints jailbreak blitz on the next drive and Golden Tate burned New Orleans for a 66 yard touchdown.

That proved to be the nail in the Saints coffin, as the Lions dominated from then on. Bulldozing a lifeless Saints defensive line in the run game, and picking off Drew Brees twice on his last two drives of the game.

The Lions moved to a dominant 8-4 while the Saints fell to a desperate 5-7.

Key 1: Successful Drives

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The biggest story of this game was undeniably the time of possession. Detroit absolutely dominated control of the ball in this game with almost 14 more minutes in time of possession on the day. The Lions regularly produced drives of five or more minutes and most importantly got points out of almost all of them, scoring on all but two of their possessions.

This was crucially important as it kept Drew Brees frustrated and on the sidelines where he couldn’t do any damage and mount much of a counter to the Lions results on offense. Stafford was certainly a huge part of this with his precision throws gutting the middle of the Saints defense all day, but the power run game had a large impact in lengthening drives as well.

The O-line created large holes exposing the overzealous pass rushing of Sheldon Rankins and Nick Fairley in the middle, resulting in some of the better power running we have seen this season. While the offensive line struggled a little in pass protection against a challenging array of defensive looks and tons of blitzes, they definitely contributed huge with the run game. If the Lions can continue this sort of keep away football and grind down teams with efficient offense they can truly beat any team out there.

Key 2: Changing Up The Defense

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More and more over the last few weeks the Lions have employed a ‘big nickel’ defense, playing with three safeties and two linebackers as opposed to a traditional nickel with a smaller third cornerback in the slot.

It’s been working so well in fact that with middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead out injured for last Sunday’s game, defensive coordinator Terryl Austin decided to role it out as the starting formation on the Saints opening drive. Needless to say it worked incredibly well all day. The Lions allowed over 300 yards through the air on the day, however Detroit kept New Orleans in their own end of the field on six out of their nine drives.

Allowing only three scoring drives, with just one touchdown. Which was a rush facing arguably the most high octane offense in the NFL coming into that game. On top of that, the unit that had been desperately lacking big plays generated no less then three interceptions on Drew Brees. All of which coming from safeties, including one to end the game from recent stand out rookie Miles Killebrew.

This new looking defense was also helped by a continually improving effort from the Lions defensive tackles. Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson have led a crew that has consistently gotten pushed up the middle and made running between the tackles for opposing offenses near impossible. After this week they should both be in the top five among defensive linemen for tipped passes.

With Quandre Diggs suffering what seems to be a season ending pectoral injury and no clear answer for the slot corner position anywhere near his abilities, expect to see a lot more of the big nickel look the rest of the season. With Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson, and Miles Killebrew rotating alongside the stalwart Glover Quinn.

Key 3: Golden Tate’s Golden Day

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Leave it to the guy that loves the spotlight to show up in the big moments. With Marvin Jones out injured Golden Tate stepped up in a huge way against the Saints, going for 145 yards receiving and a game clinching touchdown.

Every time he touched the ball you just knew something exciting was going to happen, producing 85 of his yards after the catch. Most notably was a huge catch he made over Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux where he produced a pocket-sized Megatron type play, ripping the ball out of Breaux’s hands on what he must have thought was a surefire interception.

Stafford and Tate were on the same page all day and have been a great duo as of late. While the Lions receivers abused the Saints secondary much of the day to the point where New Orleans defense was clearly frustrated, unsure of what they else they could possibly do to stop the Lions attack, Tate’s performance clearly stood out as dominant.

If all the receivers can get on the same page at the same time in this Detroit offense, combined with a potential late season return of Ameer Abdullah at even 75%, I would have no qualms saying that the Lions were the best offense in the NFL, and I don’t think it would be close.

Looking Forward

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The Bears are not a good football team. They have lost a lot of starters for this game, namely their #1, #2, and arguably #3 QB’s, #1 and #2 WR’s, C, LG, TE, #1 and #3 CB’s, #1 and #2 ILB’s, and #2, #3, and #4 DL, and those are just their significant losses!

On top of that several other starters had questionable status’s headed into their last week’s matchup against the 49er’s. If you’re in Chicago’s front office you have to think about just firing your entire medical, strength and conditioning staffs combined with doing a voodoo ritual to scare off the hive of injury bugs that have set up shop in Soldier Field. Add to the fact they weren’t all that great to begin with and missing that insane amount of players leads to the skill equivalent of a decent college team taking the field against Detroit on Sunday.

If the Lions can’t hold back the dominant group of Matt Barkley, Jordan Howard, Eddie Royal and Cameron Meredith, or put up points against a defense containing such elite starters as Mitch Unrein, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Bryce Callahan, this team doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.

A win here combined with a Green Bay loss creates a three game lead in the division between Detroit and any other NFC North team with only three games to play, almost guaranteeing Detroit the division. Let’s hope they show up in undeniably their easiest matchup of the season.

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Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.