Gridiron Gab NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview – Detroit at New Orleans

So the Lions have gotten over the first hurdle and earned a playoff berth, but now the real measuring stick is before them.  How good are the Lions?  They struggled against good teams this year, got embarrassed on national television two weeks in a row and saw their most high profile player damage his public image.  Despite those facts, they kept most games close and honestly speaking, the Lions only played their best in a handful of games.

The Chiefs, Bears and Chargers games were the only times the Lions really came out and played well in all three phases of the game.  They didn’t have foolish penalties, boneheaded plays and really just stayed out of their own way.  As far as sheer talent is concerned, the Lions are probably the most talented team in the NFC, but look no further than Tom Brady and JaMarcus Russell.  On pure talent, Russell wins in a landslide, but Brady is the better player by far.  The Lions need to rely on their talent less, and play smarter if they want to take the next step.  The Lions look like they have the foundation to compete for playoff berths for the next 10 years, but remember how quickly things can change.  2010 looked promising for the Lions too, until one play robbed them of Matthew Stafford for the year (basically.)  The Lions need to take advantage of this opportunity because who knows how often they will get another one.

Offense:

When the Lions faced the Saints the first time, they were without Ndamukong Suh, Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, as Lions fans have been reminded many times this week.  However, they were also without Matthew Stafford at 100%.  Stafford was still feeling the effects of his broken finger and his confidence was rattled by his rough three game nine interception performance.

Stafford returns completely healthy and playing at a higher level than almost any quarterback in the league.  Stafford has 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last three games and more importantly has click with Calvin Johnson again.  The duo has hooked up 24 times for 560 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games, an average of 8 catches for 187 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game.  Stafford and Johnson are the most dangerous combination in the entire playoff field when they are clicking.

When the Lions played the Saints about a month ago, the Saints blanketed CJ and forced Stafford to rely on other receivers, however, the Saints also knew Stafford wasn’t as comfortable throwing deep with his broken finger, so they rolled a ton of coverage toward Johnson to play of Stafford’s lack of confidence in his accuracy.  Calvin can battle past double and triple coverage, he does it all the time, but if Stafford didn’t trust himself to put the ball where he wanted to, blindly heaving it up was a risk not worth taking.

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