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John DeShazier: Saints passing offense will be put to the test by Lions defense

They lead the league in sacks

Strength versus strength matchups don't come much more glaring than the one that will be on display Sunday, when the New Orleans Saints (2-3) play the Lions (4-2) at Ford Field in a noon kickoff.

New Orleans totals the second-most passing yards per game in the NFL, at 309.8 per game. Detroit allows the fewest, at 197.2.

The victor in that phase likely will be a good indicator of which team is victorious on the scoreboard.

That doesn't mean the Saints have overlooked, or will overlook, their running game. The need for a solid ground attack is obvious against a defense that only allows 73.5 rushing yards per game (second fewest). The Saints average 133 rushing yards per game and a good showing will assist in controlling the clock (Detroit leads opponents in time of possession, 33:19 to 26:41 per game) and keeping the Saints' defense fresh.

"Right now, one of the things that's important for us is the balance," Coach Sean Payton said. "Our rushing numbers are going to be important, and they'll be important in this game. How we approach it, we look for balance. That's been something that has been good for us."

But the NFL's most productive passing offense since 2006 has experienced the majority of its success when the passing game has been what it expects to be numbers-wise. And those numbers will be challenged by a Lions defense that also leads the league with 20 sacks.

"In the pass and the run, they're beasts up front," said tight end Jimmy Graham, who is questionable for Sunday's game with a shoulder injury. "Their front four is special. They get a lot of pressure and they get a lot of sacks. It'll be a tough game in the pass and in the run.

"You've got to get the ball out of (Drew Brees') hands and you've got to be able to block those guys up front. So we'll see come Sunday."

Added receiver Brandin Cooks: "They've got a great defense, but it starts with their front four. They're unbelievably talented up there and then their back end is just a veteran team that knows how to play.

"It's one of those things that, you've got to go in the game and doing what you practiced all week, and being who you are. That should take care of itself."

And who the Saints are, and have been, is a prolific passing offense. Brees (150 for 218 for 1,574 yards and nine touchdowns, with six interceptions) only has been sacked four times this season.

But being that against the Lions, at Ford Field, will be a challenge.

"They are really getting pressure on the quarterback, they're forcing turnovers, yards per game I know they are number one in the league, just great situational football," Brees said. "On third down they are gearing it up, getting a lot of sacks, I think they lead the league in sacks on third down.

"They lead the league in a lot of categories. It all starts with their front four, those guys are beasts, not just the starting front four but they have some guys coming in reserve and they are a threat as well. So it starts with those guys and obviously their entire defense plays extremely well together.

"They're flying to the ball, so good things happen when you have a defense that flies to the ball and that's what they do. I think they are just playing with a lot of confidence right now, too, so it's going to be a fun test.""

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