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John DeShazier: Lions defensive front a formidable four

Keeping Drew Brees protected will be key for Saints on Sunday

Discounting the seven rushing attempts that Drew Brees has been credited with, the New Orleans Saints' quarterback only has been sacked four times in the remaining 222 times he has attempted to pass this season, or once every 55.5 times.

How near the Saints remain to that ratio probably will be a telling indicator as to how successful New Orleans is Sunday, when the Saints (2-3) travel to Detroit to face the Lions (4-2) as the Saints return from their bye week, hoping to post their first road victory of the season.

Detroit leads the league with 20 sacks, which has helped the Lions intercept seven passes (tied for fifth most) and allow just 197.2 passing yards per game (fewest in the league). And the pass rush is the marquee aspect of a defense that allows 270.7 total yards and 73.5 rushing yards, least and second-fewest in the league, respectively.

From defensive ends George Johnson (four sacks) and Ziggy Ansah (3.5 sacks, one forced fumble), to defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh (three sacks) and Nick Fairley (one sack and a forced fumble), the Lions have assembled a defensive front that has specialized in making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

"Their front is outstanding," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "They get the push inside from the tackles, both of the ends are very active players, so (they have) that combination.

"They give you enough pressure looks to where it's not just a four-man rush and yet, if they're not pressuring, they do a very good job of quickening the pace of a quarterback with just four guys rushing. And that, ultimately, makes it most challenging because now you're throwing into coverage looks, as opposed to blitz looks.

"They can push the pocket. They can make it difficult for the quarterback to find that comfortable area. Those two guys inside do a great job of doing that. They give you enough movement, enough stunts, they can get on your edge and then the ends, the same way.

"Those four players, without any pressure, without any linebacker pressures or defensive back blitzes, can create problems when they're playing coverage and make it difficult for the quarterback."

The counter is that the Saints have protected Brees about as well as any quarterback has been protected. Of the top 33 quarterbacks this season in terms of passing yards, only Cincinnati's Andy Dalton (two) and Oakland's Derek Carr (three) have been sacked less, and Dalton only has 153 pass attempts while Carr logs in at 170.

Still, the Saints know exactly what they're up against Sunday. Defensively, the Lions can get to a feeding frenzy the more they unsettle the opposing quarterback.

"It's a really talented front – it kind of goes hand in hand with a good pass rush," right tackle Zach Strief said. "Really, the whole group up front is very talented.

"They've been relentless. They've gotten in situations where they've been able to rush the passer, gotten out on front of teams, and have done a really good job. It's a challenge. It's definitely a challenge for us and they've given teams trouble. It's our job to keep them off Drew's back."

Said left guard Ben Grubbs: "I'm pretty sure they've got enough talent to where they don't need to do a lot of games, running line stunts. I'm pretty sure they try to beat you one on one. We're going to look forward to that matchup."

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