Everyone knows the Lions will be without Ndamukong Suh against the Saints this weekend. That’s a huge blow to their defense. But the real story heading into Sunday’s contest will be the absence of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has been taken away by opposing defenses in the last three weeks.
After starting the season with 804 yards and 11 touchdowns through Week 8, Johnson has averaged only 73 yards per game and has scored one touchdown. We wrote about the strategy the Bears used in Week 10 to limit Megatron to seven receptions on 19 targets –- and the Saints have a chance to implement the same gameplan.
And if the Saints can take away the Lions’ big-play wide receiver, we wonder how the Lions will fare matching up against Drew Brees and an offense that is going to score points.
To limit Johnson, defenses have bracketed or “high-lowed” Johnson using a two-high pre-snap look. Last week versus the Giants, the Saints played two high safeties – with Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper over the top. New Orleans also showed single-high safety looks, rolling the coverage toward New York’s No. 1 receiver, Hakeem Nicks, ending up in a Cover 2.
This week, that will be Johnson. Once the Lions’ top receiver is bottled up, that forces Matthew Stafford to look for other open receivers, which hasn’t been successful of late. Stafford has thrown nine of his 13 interceptions since Detroit’s Week 9 bye.
On top of the Cover 2 looks the Saints will deploy, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to use zone-pressure schemes to generate a rush at the quarterback. He’ll walk Harper down into the box, either as a blitzer or to play coverage from linebacker depth.
Last week, Stafford threw three interceptions to the Packers on plays in which he was trying to throw a ball to tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a short-to-intermediate route.
When you consider all the weapons Brees has at his disposal (Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham), we have a hard time believing Detroit can cover all of those weapons.
They will have to generate a pass rush, and, if the Lions can, it will be through their defensive line, because Detroit trusts their front four and doesn’t design much pressure. Detroit’s greatest hope of doing that, without Suh, is with defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.
We are especially interested to see Vanden Bosch match up with left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who has struggled against defensive ends that can mix up their speed and power moves. Vanden Bosh is a bully on the end with a relentless motor in pursuit of the quarterback –- the kind of guy you only want on your team.
Who gets stopped?
At the end of the day, we believe the Saints have an easier task in stopping Johnson and Vanden Bosch than the Lions have with stopping Brees and all of his weapons.
Since the template was set in Week 6 against San Francisco, high-low coverage on Johnson has been proven to slow down the Lions’ offense tremendously. And with an efficient balance of running the ball and designing screens passes, that should keep Detroit’s pass rush off-balance. This should give Brees enough time to do what he does best and throw the ball downfield.
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