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New Orleans Saints scouting report: Can the Lions’ exploit the Saints’ weak defense?

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New Orleans’ defense is better, but still extremely vulnerable.

Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are heading down to New Orleans for the third year in a row to face a 2-2 Saints team. Since the Saints defeated the Lions in the playoffs of the 2011 season, Detroit has won three straight in the series.

New Orleans comes into the game healthy off their bye week, but their identity is still unknown. After looking like one of the worst teams in the NFL through two weeks, the Saints are now riding a two-game winning streak. In fact, their last win was their first shutout since 2012. Considering where this Saints defense has been over the past few years, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

So what has changed since last year? How have the Saints looked so far through four games? Here’s our scouting report of the 2017 New Orleans Saints.

Offseason recap

Key additions: WR Ted Ginn Jr, RB Adrian Peterson, G Larry Warford, LB A.J. Klein, LB Manti Te’o, QB Chase Daniel

Key departures: WR Brandin Cooks, S Jairus Byrd, OL Tim Lelito, DL John Jenkins, RB Tim Hightower,

Key draft picks:

  • CB Marshon Lattimore (Round 1)
  • T Ryan Ramczyk (Round 1)
  • S Marcus Williams (Round 2)
  • RB Alvin Kamara (Round 3)
  • DE Trey Hendrickson (Round 4)

2017 season results (2-2)

Week 1 - at Vikings - Lost, 19-29

Week 2 - vs. Patriots - Lost, 20-36

Week 3 - at Panthers - Won, 34-13

Week 4 - vs. Dolphins (in London) - Won, 20-0

Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:

While the Saints defense has enjoyed two weeks of success, they still measure out among the league’s worst; they rank just 23rd in defensive DVOA and are 30th against the run.

The Lions are desperately looking for a breakout performance from their offense and this could finally be the week for it. Quarterbacks are averaging a passer rating of 101.2 against New Orleans this season (27th) and an unbelievably high 8.6 yards per attempt. Both of those numbers are above Matthew Stafford’s season averages (97.4 passer rating, 6.5 Y/A). So, it’s reasonable to expect a much bigger performance from Stafford this week.

Despite the recent success in slowing team’s point totals, the Saints are still ceding the second-highest amount of yards per play in the NFL (6.2). Detroit’s biggest weakness just so happens to match up pretty well against the Saints’ biggest weakness (although, you could technically say the exact same thing from the Saints point of view).

Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic

After the Lions defense suffered its worst performance of the year against the Panthers last week, they aren’t going to get any relief this week. The Saints have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and it’s surprisingly well balanced.

Through four games, the Saints offense ranks third in DVOA, with the fourth-ranked passing offense and eighth-ranked run offense.

And if you’re hoping for a turnover-filled game, you’re probably not in luck. Drew Brees has thrown eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, while only being sacked four times in four games. In fact, the Saints are the only team that has yet to turn the ball over once.

Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram provide a good one-two punch both in the backfield and in the passing game. Additionally, the Saints could be getting back receiver Willie Snead this week, who was a huge contributor last season.

Overall

This game should tell us a lot about the Detroit Lions. While their offense has really struggled through five games, you could make an argument that they’ve had to deal with some of the best defenses in the league every week. They don’t have that excuse against the Saints. Their defense is better than last year, but it still is not good.

On the other side of the ball, we get to see if last week’s horrible performance was part of this defense’s identity or just an abberation. To be the best, you have to beat the best.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism with the defense this week comes from their performance last season. Detroit picked off Drew Brees three times on the way to a 28-13 victory in 2016, and that was with a much worse roster.

But considering the Lions’ bipolar identity over the past two weeks and what little information we have on the Saints, anything could happen on Sunday.