Lions hope to get defenders back this week

The Detroit Lions will enter Saturday night's post-season tilt at New Orleans in good health.

Jim Schwartz doesn't talk much about health issues. So what he said on Monday was a little startling.

"We will be healthier (Saturday) than we've been in the last month," he said.

Although he went no further with that, it is expected the defense will get three injured players back.

The return of free safety Louis Delmas would be a huge boost. Delmas, the captain of the secondary, missed the final five games of the regular season with a grade 2 MCL tear. The team gave up an average of 28.2 points in his absence.

"He plays with a lot of speed and emotion," Schwartz said. "He's one of the cornerstones of what we want to do defensively. He was one of the guys we drafted in 2009, one of the guys we wanted to build around. We have missed him and we want to get him back."

Cornerback Aaron Berry (shoulder) could also return. When healthy, he was a stabilizing force particularly on the team's nickel alignment. His ability to man the right cornerback spot enabled Wright to play in the slot on passing downs.

Cornerback Chris Houston, too, is recovering from an MCL tear. He has been back for three games. He struggled in the first, was brilliant against the Chargers and struggled again in Green Bay.

The Lions are going to need all hands on deck against the prolific passing attack of Drew Brees and the Saints.

"There are things we need to improve on, including getting some guys healthy and back on the field," Schwartz said. "If we do that, we will play more like we did in the other 15 games than we did in the finale."

Notebook:

  • The Lions had 107 yards in penalties and had 110 yards of passing offense nullified in the 31-17 loss at New Orleans on Dec. 4. They have won three out of four since then. They have taken steps to move beyond the national perception of an undisciplined, immature team.

    "I would hope that every game we matured a little bit," coach Jim Schwartz said. "That was our first prime-time Sunday night game. We had our first Monday night home game earlier this year. There were situations that came up that we responded well to and others that we didn't. You continue to learn from things and I would expect us to do anything better the second time we go around."

  • Schwartz didn't want to dwell much on the loss in Green Bay. As he said Monday, "Any time that we over-devote to what happened yesterday is time away from preparing for the Saints." Except the first name you put on the board when discussing how to beat the Saints is Brees. And that brings everything right back to what happened in Green Bay on Sunday. The Lions secondary played its worst game of the season, yielding 480 passing yards and six touchdowns to the Packers' backup quarterback Matt Flynn. If Flynn can tear your defense apart like that, on a cold, wet and windy day outdoors, shudder to think what Brees might be able to do in the climate-controlled confines of the Superdome.

    "You can't ignore it," Schwartz said. "It happened. I've been a part of efforts like that and you just say, 'That wasn't us' and you move on. This isn't one of those." The Lions' secondary was coming off a superb effort against the Chargers the week before. "You don't go from playing the way we did against the Chargers to playing like we did (against the Packers) because you don't have good players," Schwartz said. "We just have to keep putting them in good positions and they have to make plays when they are in those positions. If we do both of those things, we will play the way we did over the course of the season."

  • The Lions are now the only franchise in NFL history to have a 5,000-yard single-season passer (Matthew Stafford) and a 2,000-yard single-season rusher (Barry Sanders).

  • In addition to games against the other teams in the NFC North, the Lions will play St. Louis, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis at home, and Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Tennessee on the road.

  • DT Ndamukong Suh was suspended and did not play against the Saints last month. "We didn't have Suh and DT Nick Fairley got hurt at the end of the first quarter," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Obviously we were down numbers on the defensive line. We will have not only some more added depth now, but we will have two quality players back and that will help us."

  • DE Lawrence Jackson (thigh) also was inactive against the Saints earlier this season. He had three tackles on Sunday, in just his second game back.

  • TE Brandon Pettigrew owns just about every single-season team mark for tight ends. His 83 catches and 777 yards are team highs. He is the first tight end in team history to go over 700 yards twice and have three 100-yard games in a season.

  • RB Kevin Smith has scored seven touchdowns in six full games this season. That's just one off his career-best of eight, which he produced in 16 games as a rookie.

  • LT Jeff Backus kept his iron-man streak going for another year. He is the first player in NFL history to play in every game his first 11 seasons. He has started 176 consecutive games.

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