As tough as it is, we need to move on and get back to legitimate football.
After the Green Bay Packers “loss” to fall to 1-2 against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, the Packers somehow must regroup and play the New Orleans Saints Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Saints enter the game a somewhat surprising 0-3 on the season. With the loss of head coach Sean Payton for the entire season thanks to the Bountygate scandal, the Saints seem to be a team without a direction.
The Packers “lost” to the Seahawks 14-12 on perhaps the most controversial call in NFL history. With the regular referees back on the field, the officiating hopefully won’t be something the Packers need to keep an eye on. The Packers defense kept the team in the game after the offense once again sputtered, mainly in the first half when Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times.
The Saints enter the game after losing on a last minute kick at home to the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24. They currently have the worst defense in the league, giving up a whopping 477 yards per game and 216 on the ground. On top of that, quarterback Drew Brees seems to be struggling without Payton calling the plays. Brees has thrown seven touchdowns in three games but also has five interceptions.
Both teams had incredibly potent offenses in 2011 but seem to be lacking the same explosiveness in 2012. Is this the game both offenses break out of their shells?
Scouting the Saints
This was expected by many to be a marquee game this week but thanks to the Packers’ offensive issues and the Saints struggles overall, this matchup seems to be more of an enigma than expected.
Don’t let the stats fool you, however. Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and has a strong group of wide receivers. Devery Henderson and Marques Colston are a lethal tandem that will present the young but talented Packers secondary.
Pierre Thomas is a decent running back for the Saints but the even bigger threat in the backfield is Darren Sproles. If Brees for some reason can’t connect with his wide receivers, he has another potent weapon in the screen game with the speedy Sproles. He’s been known to break a short dump-off into a big gain including taking the ball all the way to the end zone.
Another big target for Brees is tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham has become to the Saints what everyone hoped (and perhaps still does) for Jermichael Finley to become with the Packers. At 6’7” and weighing 265 lbs., Graham is every bit the matchup nightmare that Finley is. Except Graham has much better hands. With D.J. Smith and Nick Perry struggling in pass coverage, the Packers need to contain the Saints tight end if they want to keep Brees and company at bay.
Defensively, as mentioned earlier, the Saints are awful right now. Under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Saints were expected to have some growing pains as they adjusted to a new position coach. No one expected the Saints to give up close to 500 yards a game and 216 yards on the ground, however.
Still, the Saints have talent on defense. Defensive end Will Smith anchors the defensive line. He’s by far the best pass rushed of the front four and if the Packers want to prove the eight sack game against the Seahawks was a fluke, they will need to shut Smith down. Smith initially was suspended the first four games of the season for his role in the Saints’ bounty program but the suspension was lifted along with the other Saints players after a successful appeal in court.
With linebacker Jonathan Vilma on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and thus missing the first six games of the season, the Saints are incredibly thin at linebacker. Between Scott Shanle, Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, none of them have a real knack for rushing the passer with very few sacks between them. This could mean yet another potential big game from Finley.
The Saints secondary, even with the loss of Tracy Porter in free agency and the retirement of Darren Sharper, is in a little better shape. Jabari Greer, Malcom Jenkins, Roman Harper and Patrick Robinson are aggressive and will present a challenge to the Packers’ talented group of wide receivers.
Keys to a Packers victory
-Pound Benson to open things up for Rodgers
If ever there was a week for a Packers running back to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark, this is it. The Packers should be able to ride Benson to give Rodgers enough time to work out whatever issues the offense has been having and establish enough rhythm to get the offense into the end zone.
Once Benson gets going, the playaction should open enough and Rodgers should find some favorable matchups down the field.
-Keep the emotions in check
Yes, the Packers will be fired up for this game as they should be. However, they need to remember to not let their emotions get the best of them and play fundamentally sound football. Being wide open and having the ball come your way is not an excuse for dropping the football.
With the regular officials back, there will be a crackdown on any extra-curricular activity after the play so the Packers will need to keep their composure if the Saints try to do something to rile them up. Stupid penalties will not be tolerated.
-Protect Rodgers and adjust quickly if necessary
After last week’s performance against the Seahawks, we pretty much need to put this in the “no duh” category. Rodgers getting pummeled was pathetic enough, but was also appalling was Mike McCarthy waiting until halftime to make any adjustments in the protection scheme.
McCarthy to his credit took full responsibility in his post-game press conference, so it stands to reason he won’t make the same mistake again. However, with this coaching staff’s track record of struggling to break bad habits, anything is possible.
-Keep Brees out of sync
Hopefully the Packers defense watched plenty of tape of the first three Saints games, because Brees hasn’t been sharp in any of them.
While you can’t just replace someone who is as gifted a play caller as Payton, Brees has enough knowledge of this offense that he should be able to make any adjustments needed at the line of scrimmage. For some reason, that hasn’t happened so far.
The Packers defense needs to pressure Brees and knock him around a bit and stop Graham and Sproles in the short passing game. If they can do that and force some deep throws, then the Packers should be able to get some turnovers they were so adept at getting a year ago.
Packers 35, Saints 21
I could very easily say there is no reason the Packers should lose this game, but I’m very wary of Brees and the Saints offense. You can’t keep that good of a quarterback and that good of a unit down for real long. Same goes for the Packers offense.
The Packers will jump out to a lead with the adrenaline pumping thanks to the “loss” Monday night. The Saints make a bit of a game of it later on, but the Packers defense does a good enough job and keeps the Saints from marching into the end zone too often.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke