The Past: While the Packers won their last meeting against the Saints during the Super Bowl homecoming game in 2011 42-34, it was the underlying story of the lockout and the new CBA that made headlines. Several teams including the Saints had held private workout for their players, lead by their quarterback Drew Brees while Aaron Rodgers and fellow Packers players had elected to practice on their own. As the time during the offseason and training camp came and went, increasing fan frustration was visible as the Packers weren’t taking their Super Bowl defense seriously enough and weren’t trying hard enough to keep up with other units. Of course Aaron Rodgers (as Rodgers typically does) got the best laugh, delivering a nearly flawless performance of 27 completions out of 35 for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns, good for a 132.5 QB rating. Game 1 of the 2011 season also gave a brief glimpse of rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb, who scored a 108 yard touchdown off a kickoff, which at that point tied the league for longest touchdown in history, and a passing touchdown where he apparently ran the wrong route but scored anyways. Since then, both the Packers and Saints have remained two of the NFCs and NFLs best teams highlighted by their explosive offenses; similarly, both the Packers have fielded some less than spectacular defenses. While the Packers appear at the very least to be heading in the right direction, the weak Saints defense might be the difference between the two teams that gives Green Bay the win.
The Present: Both the Packers and Saints field impressive offenses, with Green Bay ranking 2nd in Football Outsiders DVOA behind Denver with New Orleans not far behind at 7. Interestingly, while traditionally both have been purely aerial offenses with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, the main strength of the Saints offense is surprising not Drew Brees but their running game, which ranks 2nd in the league while their passing game is completely middle of the pack at 15. As odd as it sounds, the Packers main priority will be to stop the running game and force Drew Brees to throw the ball, which in most years would be insane. Obviously even with a “running” team, Drew Brees is no push over, ranking 12th in the league according to PFF. Either way expect to see a ton of points as a good rushing offense and a passing game lead by Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham score a ton of points. While the Packers defense has been playing fantastic over the last couple games, it would be unrealistic to assume that they could fully shut down New Orleans.
While the Packers defense won’t be able to fully shut down the Saints offense, the same can be said about the Saints defense. While the Packers defense has slowly dragged itself back into decency after a horrendous start, ranking 10th in DVOA the Saints are dead last in team defense DVOA with a 30th ranking against the pass and a 16th ranking against the run. Simply put the Saints have been bad on defense in recent memory, including fielding the defense that gave up the most yards in league history in 2012 and it appears as if they haven’t solved all their issues just yet. Add to that a Packers offensive line that has finally started to look like its gelling and you have a situation where Aaron Rodgers will be able to pick and choose his receivers as well as feed the ball to Eddie Lacy and James Starks
The Future: The Saints have been precariously close to the salary cap since their first Super Bowl win in 2009; add to that the mega deals given to Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham since then and it seems like the Saints are always right away from failing to be cap compliant. Ownership also likes to make a big splash in free agency, this offseason picking up the one of biggest defensive free agent in Jarius Byrd for $54 million, who unfortunately is out on IR with a mencius tear. At the moment, the Saints only have about $2 million in free cap space, which is barely enough to cover for injury replacements and the like; to put it in perspective, the Cowboys, one of the most notoriously poorly managed teams who constantly have to restructure deals have nearly double the cap space of the Saints. About $15 million has been spent on former players, the most notable being defensive backs Roman Harper and Jabari Greer, which accounts for about $6 million and receiver Lance Moore and defensive linemen Will Smith, who both have dead money figures around $1 million. As for free agents, with Brees and Graham out of the way, the Saints don’t really have a big name free agent until 2016 when Jordan Cameron, perhaps their best defensive linemen finishes up his rookie deal.
In terms of rookies, Brandon Cooks heads the Saints draft class and was supposed to fill the role of the departed Darren Sproles; while he has had some electrify plays, the wide receiver is still a rookie and has had his fair share of down plays. Outside of that, 2nd round pick Stanley Jean-Baptise and 4th round pick Khairi Fortt have been major disappointments with less than 10 snaps total through the season. Outside of that, no draft pick has played a down with the regular units.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.