<span style="">Last December the Saints rolled into the Motor City and motored through the winless Lions, 42-7. The Saints jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the end of the first quarter and took a 28-7 lead into the locker room at halftime en route to their most convincing victory of the season.
But things have changed drastically for the team that the Saints defeated just less than nine months ago at Ford Field. In fact, this week the Saints can expect to see 31 new players from the 45 that took to the field wearing Honolulu Blue and Silver last season. 14 changes have been made to the starting lineup from the one the Saints saw last season, with two of the changes involving the switching of sides for their current defensive ends (Dewayne White and Cliff Avril).
Starting at the very top, where new Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew made one of his first orders of business to hire former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and an entirely new coaching staff. Those charges then set out to take the proverbial broom to the roster and clean house, purging the roster of players that they didn't see as contributors in their future plans. While no one at the Lions said the previous players were part of the problem, they clearly didn't view them as part of the solution, either.
"We were clear about that from the time that we hit the ground here, that there were going to have to be changes," said Schwartz. "Well, you can't stand pat on what happened last year, and the players knew that."
"There were coaching changes. There were administrative changes. There were going to be locker room changes. That's fact of life in the NFL when you have a season the way we had last year. So it wasn't unexpected. It was necessary."
From a sheer statistical standpoint the Lions' defense has been the recipient of the most attention, with 17-of-25 players new to the Detroit roster. In the defensive secondary an astounding nine-of-the-ten players on the roster are new, with the lone holdover being safety Kalvin Pearson. "I think I can just say, 'That speaks for itself,'" Schwartz told The Detroit Free Press.
An 0-16 record certainly will serve as a catalyst for wholesale changes, and the Lions' offense also has undergone a fairly drastic remodeling, beginning at the quarterback spot where former University of Georgia star Matthew Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, will get his first career regular season start against the Saints on Sunday at noon in the Superdome.
"We know the situation they are in because we where pretty much in the same kind of situation in 2006," said Saints QB Drew Brees. "I don't think many people gave us a chance and we went out and won our first three games and went on to win the division. Things can change quickly in this league."
New faces on the coaching staff equates to new philosophies across the board, which means new offensive and defensive schemes, new formations, new plays, different looks, blitzes and personnel packages. In essence, the Saints' film from their game last season has been rendered obsolete.
"It's really not much help to us," said Brees. "Sure we can look at it, but it's not all that much help. The thing you have to prepare for on any opening game, particularly this one, is to be ready for a little bit of everything. It's hard to prepare for them, but that's our challenge."
Instead the Saints will have a relatively compact collection of data to sort through when preparing for this week's game. It pretty much consists of the Lions' four preseason games and, as Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said, the need to closely study the way Schwartz, long-time and highly respected defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and former Rams head coach Scott Linehan (the Lions' offensive coordinator), like to attack their opponents.
"You try to find out as much information as possible," said Brees. "It's that simple, but at the end of the day, we do what we can do and we still follow the game plan and it's up to us, the players, to go out and execute it."
Preseason film work can, at times, be a tad misleading, as well, as most NFL teams put minimal amounts of game planning into preseason games and tend to run basic plays and packages and wait to spring variations on their opponents in the regular season. Schwartz admitted as much today when he said, "When you have a new coordinator or a coordinator coming to a team for the first time, there's uncertainty. Is it going to be the same as when you looked at Jacksonville last year? Is it going to look like what he did with the Redskins? Should we go back to Buffalo? Should we go back to Tennessee? It makes for a little uncertainty. We have the same dynamic here with Scott Linehan our offensive coordinator. Where do you go to see exactly what our offense is going to look like? Do you go to Miami? Do you go to St. Louis? Do you go back to Minnesota? Anything that you can do to keep that uncertainty alive and hold those cards close to your vest is beneficial for you."
Of course the Saints are expected to return the favor and have a game plan uniquely created to try to exploit favorable match-ups in all phases of the game, and with a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams and the ever creative Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael making the calls, the chess match should serve as an interesting subplot in Sunday's contest.
Below is a look at the starters from last season's game pitting the Saints at the Lions (December 21, 2008 at Ford Field), and the anticipated starting lineup the Lions will hit the field with on Sunday.
|2008 Lions Starters ||2009 Lions Starters |
|WR John Standeford ||WR Bryant Johnson*|
|LT Jeff Backus ||LT Jeff Backus|
|LG Damion Cook ||LG Daniel Roper*|
|C Dominic Raiola ||C Dominic Raiola|
|RG Stephen Peterman ||RG Stephen Peterman|
|RT Gosder Cherilus ||RT Gosder Cherilus|
|WR Keary Colbert ||TE Will Heller*|
|WR Calvin Johnson ||WR Calvin Johnson|
|QB Dan Orlovsky ||QB Matthew Stafford*|
|FB Moran Norris ||FB Jerome Felton*|
|RB Kevin Smith ||RB Kevin Smith|
|2008 Lions Starters || 2009 Lions Starters|
|LE Dewayne White ||LE Cliff Avril*|
|NT Chuck Darby ||DT Grady Jackson*|
|DT Shaun Cody ||DT Sammie Hill*|
|RE Cliff Avril ||RE Dewayne White*|
|OLB Ryan Nece ||OLB Julian Peterson*|
|MLB Paris Lenon ||MLB Larry Foote*|
|OLB Ernie Sims ||OLB Ernie Sims|
|LCB Leigh Bodden ||LCB Anthony Henry*|
|RCB Travis Fisher ||RCB Phillip Buchanon*|
|FS Kalvin Pearson ||FS Marquand Manuel*|
|SS Daniel Bullocks ||SS Louis Delmas*|
*Indicates change in starter or position
Wednesday Saints and Lions Injury Report:
New Orleans Saints: RB Pierre Thomas (knee), T Jammal Brown (hernia) and TE Darnell Dinkins (foot) all did not practice. S Usama Young (shoulder) fully participated in practice.
Detroit Lions: QB Drew Stanton (knee) did not participate in practice. CB Phillip Buchanon (neck), K Jason Hanson (knee), DE Jason Hunter (ribs), DT Grady Jackson (knee), WR Dennis Northcutt (hand) and G Stephen Peterman (ankle) all were limited in practice.
TE Casey Fitzsimmons (knee) and CB Anthony Henry (shoulder) fully participated in practice.
Note: New Orleans Hornets Head Coach Byron Scott was a guest of Coach Payton's at this afternoon's practice.