First look: Breaking down the Detroit Lions _lowres

Associated Press photo by MATT ROURKE -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford sits on the sidelines before the start of a Dec. 8 game in Philadelphia.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: MERCEDES-BENZ SUPERDOME

TV: ESPN

RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 IN NEW ORLEANS; KMDL-FM, 97.3 IN LAFAYETTE; WDGL-FM, 98.1 IN BATON ROUGE

RECORDS: NEW ORLEANS 5-8; DETROIT 4-9

COACHES: SAINTS, SEAN PAYTON, 10TH SEASON (85-56); LIONS, JIM CALDWELL, 2ND SEASON (14-12 IN DETROIT, 40-34 OVERALL)

LIONS BREAKDOWN

LAST WEEK: A midseason surge by the Lions evaporated in a single Hail Mary from the arm of Aaron Rodgers, and Detroit has dropped two in a row, first to the Packers and then to Todd Gurley and the St. Louis Rams 21-14 last week, prompting questions about Caldwell’s job security.

OFFENSE: New offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter turned around the offense in the middle of the season, opening up Golden Tate’s game and getting the flashy slot receiver 32 catches in the past four weeks.

The big gun in the passing game remains Calvin Johnson, who is only 19 yards away from his sixth straight 1,000-yard season. Throw in Theo Riddick, who leads NFL running backs in catches with 67, plus tight end Eric Ebron, and the Detroit passing game has plenty of weapons. The Saints secondary will indeed be challenged.

The problem is the offensive line. Detroit has allowed Stafford to be sacked 35 times, and the Lions have the NFL’s worst running game. Detroit averages a paltry 79.3 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry, and the Lions have had trouble controlling the line of scrimmage. Neither rookie Ameer Abdullah nor Joique Bell has been consistently effective.

DEFENSE: Detroit can get after the passer, starting with the edges. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has been one of the league’s best wrecking balls, racking up 13½ sacks, and Devin Taylor is a decent complementary option at five sacks. Behind those two, the Lions rank 10th in the NFL in passing defense in terms of yardage, but there’s a caveat there. Detroit’s lack of yardage comes down to lack of attempts; the Lions rank 29th in the league in opposer passer rating, allowing quarterbacks to post a 101.2 rating against them. With inconsistency inside and DeAndre Levy sidelined due to injury, Detroit has just been mediocre against the run, even with the addition of Haloti Ngata.

Detroit does have one devastating presence in the secondary. Darius Slay has been one of the league’s top cornerbacks this season, erasing one receiver for the opposing team.

Detroit’s secondary can’t make it stick, though, because the Lions have struggled elsewhere in the secondary. Injuries have forced a revolving door opposite Slay, and the Lions haven’t been good enough at safety to take things away. With that in mind, the key matchup to watch might be Slay against Brandin Cooks, although the Saints can move Cooks around to keep him out of Slay’s sights.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Matt Prater has knocked through 100 percent of his field goals this season, and punter Sam Martin has a big leg. Tate isn’t the same weapon as a punt returner that he is as a receiver, but Abdullah is an explosive kick returner, averaging more than 30 yards per return. Detroit’s coverage units have been average.