The New Orleans Saints have a chance Sunday to nudge their record above .500 for the first time since 2013 and while it still is early in this season, that would be a significant accomplishment for a team with a lot of young players on the roster who haven't been members of an above .500 NFL team in their blossoming careers. Plus, a win against Detroit (3-2) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome would extend the Saints' two-game winning streak and though that may seem moderate, it would be a great addition to the upward trajectory of New Orleans, which lost its first two games by allowing 65 points and more than 1,000 yards. Here are a few ways in which the Saints might be able to continue their winning ways:
- This Saints team has become the first in franchise history, and just the third team in NFL history, to play its first four games without committing a turnover. Sunday would be a really, really good time to play turnover-free again and it'll be a difficult task because the Lions (11 forced turnovers; seven interceptions, four fumbles) have been among the league's best at taking away the football. Credit quarterback Drew Brees for not forcing anything, the receivers and running backs for being attentive to detail in ball protection, and a little bit of luck (opponents have dropped a potential interception or two, and the Saints have been able to recover their own fumbles). Eventually, New Orleans is going to commit a turnover. It'd just be nice if Sunday wasn't when it happens.
- Among a slew of interesting statistics that Coach Sean Payton rattled off as contributors to the Saints having lost games to the Lions in three consecutive seasons was this: New Orleans only has rushed for 192 yards in the three games, an average of 64 yards per game (50 last year, 69 two seasons ago and 73 in 2014) and 3.8 yards per carry. The Saints haven't run great this season (94 yards per game, four yards per carry) but those might be acceptable numbers against the Lions, considering the previous three years. This first game without Adrian Peterson will mean larger loads to carry for running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but their production made Peterson available to trade to Arizona. The increased carries should help Ingram get into a groove and Kamara quickly has become a not-so-secret weapon.
- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford gets rid of the football quickly. That'll present a challenge to the Saints defensively, but that's where New Orleans most has improved this season. The Saints held Carolina to 288 total yards and 156 passing yards, and limited Miami to 186 and 128 in those categories, while surrendering a total of 13 points (they shut out Miami 20-0 and have posted a streak of five scoreless quarters). Too, the pass rush has been extremely effective (back-to-back games of four sacks) and the pass defense has been opportunistic (four interceptions in the last two games). Stafford, who has been nursing an ankle injury, has been sacked 18 times in Detroit's first five games, so he can be pressured. Unsettling Stafford will be a challenge, and it's the Saints' best hope to slow down Detroit.
- The Saints haven't had a problem closing with a rush; they've outscored opponents 37-13 in the fourth quarter. But the quick start has been elusive; they've been outscored 26-13 in the first quarter. A quick start would be helpful, in terms of getting fans riled, emotionally charged and invested in the game. And it might be needed because Detroit closes better than most teams; the Lions have outscored opponents 44-13 in the fourth quarter this season.
- Punter Thomas Morstead (48.6-yard average, 45.9-yard net, five of his 12 punts downed inside the 20) has been pretty close to amazing this season. He, and the Saints' punt cover team, will have to be sharp Sunday because Detroit's Jamal Agnew is averaging 22.1 yards per return. He has an 88-yarder that skews the numbers but, still, he's averaging 11 yards on his other six returns. The Saints need to corral Agnew, or he could flip the field position. Or, worse, he could take one back for a score.