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New Orleans Saints prepare for stiff test from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford

Saints will be without starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Jackrabbit Jenkins


Steadily, Matthew Stafford's efficiency has improved this season.

The Detroit Lions quarterback has progressed from 24 of 42 for 297 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, in a season-opening loss to Chicago; to 20 of 33 for 244 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, in a loss to Green Bay; to 22 of 31 for 270 yards with two touchdowns, and no interceptions, in a victory over Arizona.

The New Orleans Saints (1-2), who will play the Lions (1-2) on Sunday at Ford Field, obviously have seen the progression. More, though, the Saints are quite familiar with Stafford's production in his 12-year career, which began as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

And the Saints are expecting nothing less than that – almost 42,000 passing yards and 261 touchdowns – in Sunday's noon kickoff.

"He's got tremendous arm talent," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "He can make all the throws. So we've got to understand the spots on the field that he's trying to get the ball to, and try to take those things away."

It's a task that could be a bit more challenging this week for the Saints, with starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore(hamstring) and Jackrabbit Jenkins (shoulder) having been ruled out. Likely, they'll be replaced by P.J. Williams and Patrick Robinson.

Allen and Coach Sean Payton said the Saints are confident in their cornerback depth.

"We've got to do a good job of trying to get some pressure on (Stafford) to make him have to move off the spot and throw when his feet aren't set," Allen said. "When he's throwing in timing and in rhythm, he does a really good job. He's a challenging quarterback, a really good player. It wasn't too long ago that he was a potential MVP candidate, so he's a good player and they've got some good skill players to go along with it."

The Saints admittedly have had some defensive issues, which especially were displayed losses to the Raiders (34-24) and Packers (37-30). Payton wasn't pleased with how the Saints handled play-action passes against Green Bay, and penalties – New Orleans has committed a league-leading nine defensive pass interference penalties – have been a major hindrance.

"I think there's a combination of things," Allen said. "We've got to do a better job, first and foremost, of coaching, making sure that we take out all of the variables and things to make sure our guys are putting their eyes in the right spot and doing their job exactly the way it's supposed to be done. So that starts with us.

"And then, I think what happens is, when a team makes a play and then all of a sudden a guy tries to maybe do a little bit too much or overcompensate for someone else, there becomes a little bit of a steamroll effect. We've just got to settle down and play the type of defense we know we can play. We've had a big focus on, as a coaching staff, coaching these guys better.

"They want to do right, they have the ability to do right. It starts with us and then our guys have got to be able to go out and execute on Sunday."

Stafford can lean on tight end T.J. Hockenson (171 receiving yards) and receivers Marvin Jones (129 yards) and Kenny Golladay, who, last year, averaged 18.3 yards per catch and had 11 receiving touchdowns. But it begins with Stafford.

"I felt he played one of his better games last weekend," Payton said. "I think they're a dangerous team, especially when they're healthy at receiver and having Golladay back in the lineup is significant for them. He's got all the arm talent that you want at that position. He can fit it into tight windows. I think he's played well."

Allen said the Saints are counting on some self-reflection to help propel forward.

"The first thing we've got to do as coaches is look at ourselves as coaches and make sure we're telling them the right things," he said. "We've put a lot of focus into that. How can we simplify the teaching – not necessarily simplify the scheme – but simplify the teaching so that our guys can go out and execute.

"It's still early in the season. We're still a team that didn't have preseason games, and everybody's dealing with the same issues so that's certainly no excuse. But we're still trying to find our footing.

"When we perform the way we're capable of, when we do the things that we're supposed to do, we can play pretty good defense. There's a lot of factors that are involved and those are all the things that we've been working to try to correct."

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