Losses in consecutive games knocked the New Orleans Saints (5-6) out of first place in the NFC South Division, and the Saints need to find their footing entering Sunday's game against Detroit (8-3) in the Caesars Superdome.
Six regular-season games remain, and New Orleans possibly can get on the right trajectory in a few helpful ways:
1. STRIKE GOLD IN THE RED: The Saints were 0 for 5 in the red zone in a 24-15 loss to Atlanta, including two turnovers that the Falcons turned into touchdowns. Nothing could be more elemental than the need to score touchdowns in the red zone or, failing that, at least not committing turnovers to ensure points won't be scored. Quarterback Derek Carr's efficiency has been up and down inside the 20-yard line, and the Saints were effective for a stretch when they simply chose to run the ball in that area. Leaning on Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill isn't a bad choice anyway, but it might be even better if New Orleans is without two of its top three receivers (Rashid Shaheed and Michael Thomas). The problem is, it becomes complicated and more difficult to run if a penalty is committed. So, clean line play and accuracy in the passing game could help solve the issue, and the possible utilization of tight end Jimmy Graham may be essential. Graham has been inactive in four straight games, but he's a big target whom the Saints signed largely on the belief that he could help in the red zone. And if there's a game to get it straightened out, this is the opponent. Detroit has the third-worst red zone defense (68.5 percent) in the NFL and has been a susceptible partner for opponents.
2. POUND THE ROCK: Leaning on the run game sounds good in theory, but may be difficult to execute. The Lions allow 91.3 rushing yards per game, fifth-fewest in the league. Still, Kamara, Hill and former Lion Jamaal Williams – along with the Saints' offensive line – needs to make their presence felt Sunday because expectations have to lower in the passing game without Thomas and Shaheed. New Orleans will need receivers A.T. Perry, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Keith Kirkwood, and tight end Juwan Johnson to help pick up the slack in the passing game. But even with the Lions focused on stopping the run, New Orleans needs to be able to exert some will on the ground.
3. PLUG THE LEAKS: The Saints' mobile quarterback/run game issue for the defense reached its low point against Atlanta, which ran for 228 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries. New Orleans has allowed at least 113 rushing yards in six straight games, and opponents have averaged 151 rushing yards per game over that stretch. Either the Saints are in for a get-right game against the run, or the Lions – who average 136.9 rushing yards per game, sixth-most in the league – are going to post a number that falls in line with the current string. Lions running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs have combined to run for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns on 242 carries.
4. GET TO GOFF: What could help the Saints' run defense is that Lions quarterback Jared Goff is much less of a threat to run and as of late, he has been turnover-prone (three interceptions and three lost fumbles in consecutive weeks, against Chicago and Green Bay). But he has thrown for 3,075 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown (82 catches for 993 yards and five touchdowns) could be a headache. Cornerback Isaac Yiadom could have a heavy target day.
Little Caesars® is always the winning play on Saints gameday! Order online at littlecaesars.com during Pizza!Pizza!® Pregame — 1 hour before or 3 hours after kickoff on Thursdays, Mondays, and all day Sunday. You'll score fun perks and be entered to win a trip to Super Bowl LVIII! No purchase necessary. Visit Littlecaesars.com/NFL for rules.