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Lions-Saints scouting report

January 6, 2012
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Lions on offense: Quarterback Matthew Stafford has put together an outstanding campaign after an injury-riddled 2010. The 6-foot-3-inch, 232-pounder might be built like a linebacker but, make no mistake, he is a quarterback through and through. Stafford has good presnap recognition skills and a howitzer of an arm. He still panics sometimes and will make questionable decisions but he has cut down on his mistakes. Calvin Johnson is the league’s best receiver. A 6-5, 236-pound beast, Johnson has an impressive combination of size, strength, and speed. He has excellent hands and tremendous concentration - particularly in the red zone. Receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young (star-in-waiting) are reliable. Brandon Pettigrew is an outstanding receiving tight end.

Saints on defense: Safety Roman Harper is one of the league’s best-kept secrets. The 6-1, 200-pounder is decent in coverage but excels closer to the line of scrimmage. He fills holes quickly, delivers nice pop, and will get to the QB (7.5 sacks). Former Boston College linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has 79 tackles (who knew?).

Saints on offense: Drew Brees is pretty good. All right, he might not have ideal size (6 feet, 209 pounds) but he doesn’t come up short in any other area. One of the most accurate passers in NFL history, Brees has a terrific arm and field awareness. He excels at reading coverages, has quick feet, and delivers pinpoint throws even on the run. He has an outstanding stable of pass catchers. The best are tight end Jimmy Graham (he has strength and speed) and Marques Colston (he has size and speed). In addition, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson all have big-play capabilities. Scatback Darren Sproles has been nothing short of spectacular this season. A rushing, receiving, and return threat, the little guy (he’s 5-6 but looks 4-6) is a threat to score 6 from anywhere at any time.

Lions on defense: Detroit’s front is scary. Cranky tackle Ndamukong Suh has superhuman strength, deceptive quickness, and plays with an edge. Cliff Avril is relentless in pursuit. Kyle Vanden Bosch never takes a play off. Linebackers Stephen Tulloch (111 tackles) and DeAndre Levy (109) are quiet and effective.

Special teams: Sproles is a tremendous return threat. He has great vision and quickness and string together moves like few players in NFL history. He runs low, avoids big hits, and rarely loses yardage. He has a 27.2-yard average on 40 kick returns and 10.1-yard average on 29 punt returns, including a touchdown . . . John Kasay (Patriots fans still love him) has converted 28 of 34 FGs with a long of 53 yards. He is 63 for 63 on PATs . . . Thomas Morstead averages 47.9 yards per punt (domes are nice, huh?) . . . Stefan Logan is Detroit’s top return man. He averages 25.2 on 33 kick returns and 8.1 on 37 punt returns . . . Jason Hanson is 24 of 29 on FGs and 54 of 54 on PATs . . . Ben Graham averages 44.1 yards on 28 punts.

Miscellany: This is the first time in NFL history two 5,000-yard passers will square off in a playoff game . . . The Lions, who scored a franchise-record 474 points, are back in the postseason dance for the first time since 1999 . . . The Saints are riding an eight-game winning streak and have collected an NFL-record 7,474 yards.

JIM McBRIDE

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