With the nations’ glare on them, the New Orleans Saints took another step towards reclaiming bragging rights in the NFC South with a win over the Detroit Lions. Drew Brees was again on fine form as he continues his record setting pace, while his defense stifled a dangerous Detroit offense, and the Saints were able to claim a victory in rather comfortable fashion.
For the Lions it was another loss in a second half of the season that has seen far too many of them, leaving their winning start to the season a distant memory. Despite one of Matt Stafford’s better displays in 2011, they were unable to go toe to toe with a potent Saints offense and overcome a poor display by Gunther Cunningham’s defense. With Ndamukong Suh suspended and Nick Fairley getting his first career start after being hampered by his broken foot, the Saints interior took advantage both through the air and on the ground. Let’s look at those issues and more in our three performances of note.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
The Inconsistent Left Tackle
Jeff Backus (+4.1) has been one of the more frustrating players in the NFL this year. He’s registered three performances graded at higher than +3.0 but has also played terribly at times, especially against the Vikings (-7.6) and 49ers (-5.5). The good Backus turned up on Sunday, especially in pass protection, where he allowed just the solitary pressure on 54 drop backs. Backus now ranks 29th in the NFL in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 94.2. While he was rarely involved in the run game, he was able to seal Will Smith to the inside on off tackle runs on two occasions. Backus has now improved to -1.3 overall on the ground for the year.
A Tough Day for Levy
The Lions’ organization seems to be really high on DeAndre Levy (-3.9) so his poor performance against the Saints, put in stark contrast to Stephen Tulloch playing so well, won’t have gone down well. Despite playing virtually every snap (58-of-63), he failed to make an impact with his most glaring weakness is against the run (-2.0). It’s particularly troubling because of the importance of linebackers being able to fill holes in the Wide-9 scheme. Both Carl Nicks and Jermon Bushrod got the better of him at times but Levy was also involved in one of the more embarrassing plays of Week 13. The Saints ran a toss left at 5:54 in the fourth quarter using Devery Henderson to crack the pursuing defender. Levy never saw him coming and ended up on his back on a play the Saint wide receiver will surely be talking about for days. Throw in some poor plays in coverage and an inability to generate pressure and you have an all round bad day for a player who has excelled at times this year.
A Day Worthy of a Benching
Former Brown Eric Wright (-4.8) had performed well prior to playing Drew Brees in Week 13. The most obvious problem were the three missed tackles where Mark Ingram, Robert Meachem and Darren Sproles all got away from him to extend plays. Failing to bring runners down wasn’t his only problem with the touchdown he gave up to Meachem being about as bad a play as a corner can make. Wright let the receiver get inside leverage, leaving him wide open on a post route where, having conceded the catch, he simply didn’t look interested in making a tackle as Meachem gave the Saints a commanding lead. In the end, Wright allowed three of five passes to be complete for 86 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, though he did have a pair of pass deflections.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
A Better Day for An Inconsistent Left Tackle
Jermon Bushrod (+3.1) has come a long way since entering the Saints’ lineup. He’s graded positively seven times this year but has also (like Backus) had three games graded below -3.0. He brought his ‘A-Game’ against Kyle Vanden Bosch, however, conceding just one pressure on 39 drop backs. His hiccup came with 12:38 to play in the fourth as Keyunta Dawson’s bull rush pushed him into Stafford. Bushrod is now 18th in our Pass Blocking Efficiency rankings, a significant improvement from 27th in 2010. As mentioned, Bushrod did a good job on Levy in the run game but he also got the better of the man tasked with filling Suh’s shoes in Sammie Lee Hill.
Forgetting Olin Kreutz
If there’s one thing the Saints know how to do it’s develop interior offensive linemen. Pro Bowlers Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are now playing either side of the increasingly impressive Brian De La Puente (+1.1). The undrafted free agent has put together a string of impressive performances grading at +8.8 in his last six games. Consistency is the hallmark of a good center, so De La Puente still has a ways to go but he’s on the right track, finishing the game nearly perfect in pass protection, allowing a sack to Corey Williams. In the run game, De La Puente had an interesting battle with Stephen Tulloch as each player graded positively against the other once. De La Puente was also able to control the normally excellent Williams on a run at 6:35 left in the fourth.
Still Searching for Linebackers
JoLonn Dunbar (-2.9) typifies the Saints’ struggles at the position. His grade came on just 21 snaps as he plays in New Orleans’ base 4-3 package. Against the run he failed to make any tackles and overplayed the Lions’ end-around to open the game losing contain and allowing Titus Young to pick up a first down. There was worse news in coverage (-1.9) as he missed a tackle on Kevin Smith and couldn’t get off blocks on wide receiver screens. Brandon Pettigrew pancaked him on one such screen leading to a big gain for Nate Burleson. The Saints have put new players on the field this year but the results have been the same at the linebacker spot.
– The Saints’ defense missed just three tackles.
– Only six different players generated pressure for the Lions and just one player (Cliff Avril) more than once.
– Lions running backs did not force a single missed tackle.
Drew Brees was only pressured on five dropbacks in this game and that was thanks to the entire Saints’ offensive line who subdued the Suh-less Lions.