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Five things to watch: Saints vs. Lions

 The Detroit Lions hit the road this afternoon for the first of two straight road games with the New Orleans Saints at the Caesars Superdome. This is a big game for both teams as the Saints try to keep pace with the Falcons for first place in the NFC South. Detroit is looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season and extend their lead in the NFC North to three games against the Vikings.


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Here are five things to watch for today's matchup:


1. Back together?

Left guard Jonah Jackson returned to practice as a full participant on Thursday and Friday, and that's a good sign that he could return to the lineup today after missing the last two games with a wrist injury. Jackson was listed as ambiguous on Friday's injury report. That would be good news for a Detroit offensive line coming off its most uneven performance of the year on Thanksgiving against the Packers. Detroit rushed for 140 yards, but in pass protection, they allowed three sacks and 12 quarterback hits.

It's a pretty proud group in the O-line room and they'll be looking for a bounce-back performance with their starting five - Taylor Decker, Jackson, Frank Ragno, Graham Glasgow, and Penny Sewell - possibly starting together for the third time this season.

2. Use force to maintain security

The Lions have made a point of it this week, and after Detroit turned the ball over seven times in their last two games, we have seen it in action during practice, where it was accessible to the media. Specifically, quarterback Jared Goff mentioned being more cautious with the ball this week, particularly if he breaches the pocket.

With 14 interceptions in today's game, the Saint's defense is tied for fourth in the NFL in terms of total takeaways. The last thing the Lions want to do when playing on the road is give the Saints more possessions and narrower fields as a result of their errors. This is an opportunistic club.


3. The flurry of passes

With 46 rushes this season, Aidan Hutchinson is second in the NFL only behind Micah Parsons (47), and Maxx Crosby (47). He wants them to go beyond the 5.5 sacks he's already racked up this season, but the Lions haven't been able to reliably get anybody else going on the opposite end, so he's been to deal with a lot of double teams and chips. He says Aleem McNeil is giving them a strong rush from inside, but they still need a third player to come up.

Josh Paschal, a second-year defensive lineman, was one of the players defensive coach Aaron Glenn mentioned this week. While Pascal was effective in the run game last year as a second-round choice, Glenn expressed his want to see more pass-rush strength from Pascal to assist take


4. THE RED ZONE


The game this afternoon will include a lot of action in the red zone. Despite having 444 yards of offense last week against the Falcons, the Saints were forced to settle for five field goals as they went 0-for-5 in the red zone. New Orleans is only 29th in the NFL in terms of red zone conversion percentage this season (42.5%). That's been a major focus, according to Saints head coach Dennis Allen, because it lost them the game the previous week.

The Lion's defense, ranked just 30th in the league when it comes to red zone defense, will face New Orleans. Detroit is giving up touchdowns on 68.6% of its plays.

There are numerous one-on-one situations in that scenario where you have to prevail because there isn't much room and you can't just play zone, so you have to match up with guys," Glenn commented on his team's red zone defense this past week.

"All right, let's find out where our help is as well. When you're in the red zone, it's essentially a one-on-one situation because that has to do with the players just playing their game and us making sure those guys are in the proper spots. We understand that the best teams in the red zone are those who can run the ball, so we need to improve there. We also know that the ball will be out quickly and that you must hunker down."

5. Absent ANZALONE


Due to a hand injury sustained on Thanksgiving against the Packers, veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone will not be able to play for Detroit today. Anzalone is the team's leading tackler and defensive captain. This implies that certain players in that room will need to step up for the Lions.

Jack Campbell, a rookie linebacker for MIKE, is foremost among them. With help from seasoned Derrick Barnes, he's expected to call the plays and get the defense into the proper checks. Malcolm Rodriguez and Jalen Reeves-Maybin might also play a bigger role on defense. For Campbell in particular, this is a significant opportunity.

Alvin Kamara, the running back, and Taysom Hill, the tight end, running back, and receiver, are the two most dynamic weapons on the Saints' offense. It's no secret that Lions head coach Dan Campbell believes that the game is about the next man up, and the Lions defense's linebacker position will need to reflect that today.


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