Brian Allee-Walsh

Here’s what Saints have to do if they’re finally going to get Matt Stafford off his game

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) passes under pressure from New Orleans Saints defensive end Darryl Tapp (55) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) passes under pressure from New Orleans Saints defensive end Darryl Tapp (55) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. AP

If Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford starts Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, he will extend his streak to 110 straight games and tie Joe Ferguson for 10th place all-time in the NFL.

That’s a big if.

Stafford exited a Week 5 home loss to the Carolina Panthers hobbled and humbled, leaving his status in doubt for a NFC matchup that looms large for both the Lions and Saints.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell has remained tight-lipped about his quarterback’s health since the 27-24 loss to Carolina at Ford Field in downtown Motown, a game during which Stafford reportedly suffered hamstring and ankle injuries to his right leg after being sacked six times and pressured 12 times (41 dropbacks).

Stafford is “sore,” Caldwell acknowledged. Stafford said as much afterward, then directed all injury-related questions to Caldwell. Thus, we wait with bated breath for the Lions first practice report of the week.

It appears the Panthers may have unwittingly done the Saints a huge favor, roughing up Stafford the week before he comes to New Orleans.

Oddly enough, the Lions and Saints are playing for the fourth straight season, the third consecutive year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Lions have won the three previous meetings with Stafford under center.

Consider:

▪  He has been stellar in those games, completing 79 of 107 passes for 894 yards with seven touchdowns and two interecptions for a 112.4 passer rating.

▪  He has been brilliant in back-to-back wins at the Superdome in 2015 and ’16, completing 52 of 67 passes for 595 yards with five TDs and no INTs for a 128.5 rating.

Stafford should see a more competitive Saints defense Sunday, one that has played extremely well the past two games, including a four-sack, three-INT performance in a convincing 34-13 win at Carolina in Week 3.

The blueprint for success against Stafford is clear: Pressure, pressure, pressure.

He has been sacked a league-high 18 times this season, including 12 against Minnesota (6) and Carolina (6) in Weeks 4 and 5. Of 41 dropbacks against Carolina, the Panthers blitzed 21 times, resulting in six sacks, 12 pressures and a 47 percent completion rate. Against a conventional pass rush (four or fewer players), Stafford was pressured twice and completed 80 percent of his passes.

I suspect Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will dial up pressure early and often and test Stafford’s durability and mobility.

Stafford’s backup is Jake Rudock, a second-year player who has yet to throw a NFL pass in the regular season. He is a sixth-round pick from Michigan, the 191st player taken overall in the 2016 draft.

Tom Brady also played at Michigan, was selected by New England in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, the 199th player taken overall.

The coincidence is worth noting just in case Stafford can’t answer the opening whistle or forced to leave the game early.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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