NEW ORLEANS (AP) — If Saints quarterback Drew Brees wants to showcase how much he has left, he’ll get few better platforms than Sunday’s game against Detroit.
The other quarterback will be the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, who this year received the richest contract in NFL history — a distinction that belonged to none other than Brees back in 2012.
Now, Brees is 38 and in the final year of his contract, and therefore could benefit considerably from playing brilliantly against the 29-year-old Stafford’s Lions.
Brees generally walks the company line when it comes to emphasizing winning over individual accolades. But he also isn’t shying away from highlighting how productive he might have to be when Stafford is leading the opposing offense.
“Bottom line is he is a great player and I know this: You go into a game against a team like this and a quarterback like this, you know that the game’s never over,” Brees said. “He can change the game very quickly and he is that type of playmaker and has that type of talent and competitive nature. That’s what you always know when you go against a guy like this.”
Brees, who has passed for 5,000-plus yards in four of the past six seasons, including last season, hasn’t looked quite as prolific early in 2017. But he hasn’t lacked efficiency, averaging about 284 yards passing per game with eight TDs and no interceptions.
“You don’t shut down Drew Brees. He’s a talented guy that’s going to rack up some yardage and points against any and everybody,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “He is tough to handle.”
If any team has handled Brees well in recent years, it’s Caldwell’s Lions, who’ve beaten New Orleans in three straight meetings since 2014.
Here are some key story lines heading into the Lions-Saints matchup in the Superdome:
ABOUT FACE: While the Saints rank 29th defensively, their previous two games have represented a dramatic improvement. During their first two games, losses to Minnesota and New England, the Saints allowed 1,025 yards and 65 points combined. During the next two games combined, the Saints gave up only 475 yards and 13 points while making eight sacks and four interceptions.
“There’s not huge personnel changes, or style changes, or anything,” Stafford said. “They’re just executing better. They’ve got talented players, they’ve got a young back end with some guys that can really run and move, and they’re long and physical. They got guys that can get after the passer, so they’ve got what you need to have a good defense.”
LOW GEAR: The Lions are still trying to hit their stride offensively, averaging 288.2 yards per game, which ranks 29th.
“We’re close,” Stafford said. “We’ve just missed on some big plays that help you.”
Pressure on Stafford has been a problem. He’s been sacked 18 times and has practiced on a sore ankle this week.
“Right now, we’re not protecting as well as we’d like or doing the little things that keeps us out of sack situations often enough,” Caldwell said.
An offensive lineman missing from last season is Larry Warford, who signed with the Saints as a free agent.
“He’s been a great addition for us,” Payton said. “He’s been steady, available. I think he is a good teammate. He is strong.”
CATCHING ON: Saints receiver Willie Snead entered the season talking about his goal of reaching 1,000 yards receiving. But an offseason drunk driving arrest led to a three-game suspension , and he missed Week 4 with a sore hamstring. After resting during the Saints’ bye last week, Snead appears ready to return.
“I’ve got to work a little bit harder. I’ve got to prove my worth,” Snead said this week. “I feel like I do have something to prove right now to not only myself, but to my teammates, the coaches, the `Who-Dat’ fans, that I’ve been in a bad place, but right now I’m past that. I’m ready to help this team.”
NO RUSH: While the Saints are happy with the dynamic roles Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have played as receivers out of the backfield, neither team has mounted a considerable ground game yet. New Orleans ranks 21st in the NFL, averaging 94 yards rushing per game. The Lions rank 26th, averaging 87.6 yards.
LOSING NGATA: Nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who had his second sack of season last Sunday, was placed on injured reserve this week with a bicep injury. Thanks in part to Ngata, Detroit ranks third in the NFL in yards rushing allowed.
“Obviously he is one of the all-time greats,” Caldwell said. “He added a lot to the ability to run-stop and rush the passer.”
Candidates to replace Ngata include Jeremiah Ledbetter and Akeem Spence.