Teryl Austin’s Defense Has Faced Drew Brees In Each Of The Last Three Seasons.
The New Orleans Saints have been a familiar opponent for the Lions in recent years. This will be the fourth season in a row they have appeared on Detroit’s schedule, and the Lions will be looking to make it a fourth consecutive win. The high octane offense in New Orleans has given defensive coordinators nightmares for over a decade, but Teryl Austin has done enough to allow the Lions to walk away with victories in each of the three match-ups since becoming the defensive coordinator in 2014.
Reviewing the past showdowns should give some insight about what to expect when the Lions head to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday.
October 19, 2014 (Lions 24, Saints 23)
This was the closest of the games during Austin’s stretch. The Saints totaled 408 offensive yards on their way to 23 points. Most of their success was through the air; quarterback Drew Brees finished with 342 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. The running game was largely ineffective, totaling just 73 yards on 21 carries. However, the running backs played a major role in the passing attack. Four different backs combined to catch 13 passes for 94 yards, a product of mostly man coverage and poor linebacker play.
Austin chose to play a lot of man coverage in this game. It was often supplemented with safety Glover Quin dropping into a deep zone and safety James Ihedigbo playing an underneath robber role. This would prove to be key on the play that turned the game around. With a little over three minutes remaining, Brees dropped back on 3rd and nine to find what he had been seeing for most of the day.
The man coverage was on, and just as defensive end George Johnson approached for a near sack, Brees got off a pass to wide receiver Marques Colston. The ball never found its intended target. Instead, Quin stepped in front of the pass for a huge interception that set up the game winning score for the Lions. Brees had been seeing Quin deep throughout the game, but on that key play he swapped to the robber and Ihedigbo took the deep coverage.
It appears that Brees never saw Quin and certainly didn’t expect him to be there. It doesn’t happen often, but Brees was fooled and it led to a win.
December 21, 2015 (Lions 35, Saints 27)
The stats from this game are a bit misleading at face value. The Lions led 28-3 late in the 3rd quarter, so Austin was able to play conservatively with the sizable lead. This led to some late drives and padded stats from the Saints. Brees finished with 341 yards and three touchdowns.
Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead were his top targets at wide receiver with ten receptions each for exactly 200 yards combined. Benjamin Watson did damage from the tight end position as well (6/49/1) while the running backs were quiet in the passing game. The Lions defense didn’t force any turnovers, and only notched one sack on the day.
The success the Lions did find came from good old-fashioned defensive stops; New Orleans was only 5-14 on third down. They did convert twice on fourth down to keep drives alive, but were forced to punt four times (none of which came in the fourth quarter). The late surge from the Saints made it close for a few minutes before the Lions scored one last time with 5:24 left on the clock to put the game out of reach. New Orleans did score again afterwards, but it was too late to finish the comeback.
December 4, 2016 (Lions 28, Saints 13)
Last season the Lions went into New Orleans and delivered Drew Brees one of the worst performances of his career. He tossed three interceptions to the Lions secondary while failing to score a touchdown in the game. The running game wasn’t much better. They mustered 50 yards on 12 carries as a team. Full back John Kuhn did manage to score their only touchdown of the day on a one yard plunge. The running backs were once again effective in the passing game. This time they accounted for 12 receptions and 84 of Brees’ 326 yards through the air. This is another result of the Lions linebackers failing to demonstrate quality man coverage skills.
Allowing the short passing game to thrive proved to be a fair exchange for keeping any wide receivers from having an impact game like they did the previous season. Tight end Coby Fleener finished as the leading receiver for New Orleans with 86 yards. The tight end position gave the Lions fits all season. This game wasn’t any different in that regard, but the turnovers were far too much to overcome in the end. This game came in the middle of a five game win streak for the Lions. It would arguably end up being their best defensive performance of the season.
October 15, 2017
Austin’s preference to allow the short passing game will likely be on display again this Sunday. The Saints drafted a running back by the name of Alvin Kamara to play the receiving back role this season. He’s been heavily involved in the passing attack, and looks to get even more work with the recent trade of running back Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals. Look for him to see a lot of targets. The Saints’ running game wasn’t a factor in any of the past three meetings. Their rushing attack ranks 21st in the NFL with an average of 94 yards per game. The Lions rank 3rd in the league against the run (74.6 ypg). There’s little reason to expect the ground attack to be effective considering those numbers and the recent history.
A factor that hasn’t been mentioned is the lack of sacks Austin has been able to produce against Brees. Detroit never topped three sacks in any of the previous match-ups. Brees lets go of the ball quickly and doesn’t take hits often so don’t expect to see many blitzes from Austin. He will prefer to play coverage as he has in the past. Most coordinators in the league can’t boast the bottom line results against Brees that Austin can. If all goes according to plan, the players will execute his game plan and fly home from New Orleans with a fourth consecutive win in the series.