Saints unsure what to expect from new Lions

Sep 11, 2009 - 12:47 AM By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS(AP) -- At the Saints' suburban headquarters, it's no secret quarterback Drew Brees arrives early, stays late, is known to show up on days off and has a prodigious appetite for film study.

With Detroit coming to New Orleans on Sunday to open the regular season, it would be easy to assume Brees has reviewed every play of the Saints' 42-7 demolition of the Lions last December.

Not so, Brees said.

From new coach Jim Schwartz to No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford to the 30 other new players on the roster, the Lions hardly resemble the hapless bunch that last season earned the dubious distinction of being the only NFL team to go 0-16.

"If personnel was similar ... you'd want to see how their guys played our guys, but you can't even do that," Brees said. Cornerback "Philip Buchanon is a guy we played against in Tampa and (cornerback) Anthony Henry from Dallas, so we're familiar with those guys from playing on different teams with different defenses. Obviously everybody teaches everything different. The linebacker corps, getting (Larry) Foote from Pittsburgh and Julian Peterson from Seattle - they've gone out and gotten some guys.

"You try to look at everything, but understand that you could get anything," Brees continued. "You have to expect the unexpected."

Few expect the Lions, overhaul or not, to keep up with a Saints team that has all the key players back from an offense that led the NFL in yards per game (410.7) and scoring (28.9) last season. Reggie Bush has said he'll be back and better than ever from left knee surgery last December, despite sitting out much of the preseason. Receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey are healthy and have looked sharp. Oddsmakers made the Saints nearly two-touchdown favorites.

Yet the Saints have only to recall their own recent history to see the danger of overlooking Detroit.

When Sean Payton found his first head coaching job in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints were fresh off a miserable 3-13 campaign. Payton sent packing about half the players he inherited from the old regime, brought in Brees, drafted Bush, made several other key changes on both sides of the ball, and the rest is history. New Orleans went from worst to first in the NFC South, came within one win of the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance, and uplifted a community that was reeling from a natural disaster of historic proportions.

One could argue the Detroit area is dealing with a disaster of its own right now, of the economic variety. In this context, Schwartz has sought to instill in the Lions' locker room a culture of discipline, unity, toughness and hope. He's sought a clean break with the recent, embarrassing past.

"We didn't even address 0-16 from last year. We have too much other stuff to worry about to address what happened last year," Schwartz said. "I've said this since I've hit the ground down here, the objective isn't to turn the team around. I've compared it to losing weight. ... You can go to a weekend spa, drink cayenne pepper water and eat lemons and wrap yourself in cellophane and you can drop 10 pounds in a weekend. But we all know what happens. That weight comes back.

"So you have to change your goal. Rather than the goal being to lose weight, your goal has to be to get on the treadmill every day and eat a little bit better than you did yesterday, and if you do that over the course of time, you will look back and have lost weight."

Or in the Lions' case, gained wins.

A key difference between the Saints of '06 and the new Lions is the level of experience at quarterback. Brees was coming off a serious injury to his throwing shoulder, but when healthy he was a proven winner.

Stafford's rookie contract (worth as much as $78 million over six years, with $41.7 million guaranteed) pays him more than Brees (six years, $60 million), who last season became the second quarterback in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards. But the Lions' new starter is untested as he prepares for his first regular-season snap.

Saints defensive end Jeff Charleston referred to him as "fresh meat," though Stafford hardly seemed fazed, responding, "Whatever."

Stafford won't be in strange surroundings. He led Georgia to a 41-10 Sugar Bowl romp over Hawaii to cap the 2007 season. Last fall, he looked like a pro in Georgia's 52-38 win at LSU, just 85 miles up the Mississippi River.

Detroit will have to hope Stafford's college success, much like that of Matt Ryan in Atlanta, translates quickly to the NFL.

His coach thought he played well enough in the preseason, and looked good enough throughout training camp, to beat out veteran Daunte Culpepper for the job. Schwartz said Stafford also developed a good rapport with receiver Calvin Johnson, one player from last season who was not about to be shown the door after racking up 1,331 yards receiving and 12 TDs.

"When we judged (Stafford) as a quarterback, we judged him on his body of work, not just the preseason games," Schwartz said. "There were passes that were called back with offensive holding penalties. He had maybe a half a dozen drops that receivers should have caught balls, receivers that did not make our 53-man roster. That may have made those stats look totally different.

"What he did as a quarterback is he made good decisions and put the ball where he was supposed to. Did he make some mistakes? Yes. But he made a lot of plays for us, particularly with Calvin Johnson."

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