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Saints at Lions: Five things to watch

Teams play at noon at Ford Field

1. Coach Sean Paytonalways stresses that the team that wins the turnover battle usually is the one that wins the game. Is it true? Well, the New Orleans Saints have committed seven turnovers on the roadthis season in their three losses, and only have forced one. So that's a good jumping off point, noteworthy because in the 26 games under Payton in which the Saints haven't committed a turnover, they're unbeaten. True, there are no guarantees or absolutes. But staying clean on the road in the turnover department, or at least staying even in the category, will give the Saints a better chance to win Sunday against Detroit. The Saints only have won the turnover battle once this season, so it seems safe to say they're due for some good fortune.

  1. A good way to protect the football will be to protect Drew Brees. Brees only has been sacked four times this season, in 222 drop backs. That sterling ratio will be put to the test against the Lions, who have posted a league-high 20 sacks in six games (including four by George Johnson, 3.5 by Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansahand three by Ndamukong Suh) and have held five of six opponents to 17 points or less. Detroit harasses quarterbacks like few others; in addition to the sacks, the Lions also have seven interceptions. So an upright, clean Brees will be paramount for New Orleans, especially if he has to scan the field looking for receivers minus tight end Jimmy Graham. If Graham's shoulder injury makes him inactive, others will have to combine to give the Saints his production, if not his presence.
  1. Is this the week for the Saints pass rush to get healthy? It looks to be as good as any. Lions quarterback Matthew Staffordhas been sacked a league-high 21 times this season, in 233 drop backs. It certainly won't hurt New Orleans' cause if Detroit receiver Calvin Johnsonis out due to injury (he sat out last week with a high ankle sprain, and may miss Sunday's game, too); that may give the pass rush a split second longer to reach Stafford. The Saints will enter Ford Field with six sacks; posting half that many against Detroit will go a long way toward posting their first road victory this season.
  1. The Saints will welcome back running back Mark Ingramthis week, having gained confidence in the fact that the running game didn't dip in his absence. Khiry Robinson(a team-leading 304 rushing yards) and Pierre Thomas(120) each averages five yards per carry and has run for two touchdowns, leading a ground game that produces 133 yards per game on 5.2 yards per carry. But Ingram (143 rushing yards, three touchdowns in two games) was off to the best start of his NFL career. His return will add one more weapon to the offensive arsenal, and perhaps a key one at that. Detroit holds a time of possession advantage over opponents this season, 33:19-26:41 per game. A good running game can help the Saints control the clock, keep their defense fresh and keep the Lions offense off the field. All of those are good things for New Orleans.
  1. The Saints, coming off their bye week, should be fresh, and they have plenty of incentive to win. First, there are the NFC South Division standings; they're one game behind Carolina in the loss column and, obviously, want to keep pace with the division leader. Second, they want to build some momentum by winning their second consecutive game. New Orleans is looking to get on a roll. Third, in order to be the team they want to be and to ascend to the position they want to occupy, the Saints have to win on the road. They're 0-3 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season, after going 3-5 on the road during the 2013 regular season. Players, undoubtedly, are weary of hearing about the lack of road success. The only way to mute the talk is to win.
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