The Saints will face the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field on Sunday for what is without question their toughest test of the season so far. The bad news is the Saints have failed miserably with three much inferior tests so far, so on paper the Saints have no chance based on their current play. The Packers are a suprise 1-2 at this point, but make no mistake they are far better than the Saints right now. If not for a bogus ruling on Monday night, they’d be 2-1. The Packers’ feature Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP, and one of the best offenses in the NFL. By contrast, the Saints feature the worst defense in the NFL by far and a struggling offense to boot. I fully expect the Saints to get blown out in this game, but I have certainly seen crazier things happen. There’s a reason they play the game, and don’t forget some of the teams the Saints have lost to the last two years: Rams with A.J. Feeley at quarterback, Browns with Colt McCoy, Cardinals with Max Hall. At the time the Saints were one of the league’s best, and those losses prove any given Sunday… yadda yadda. You get the idea, it’s going to take a shocker. But losing to the Saints on Sunday would be far less of an embarrassment to the Packers than some of the aforementioned were to the Saints at their peak. Here’s what to expect from the Pack:
The Packers are primarily a passing team and their offense isn’t that disimilar from the Saints except their receivers are much better and their backs are much worse. In fact, their primary rusher is the corpse of Cedric Benson, but that’s kind of a moot point because the Packers rely on passing for almost everything, including short yardage. So far they’ve thrown 116 times and run 63 times. 10 of those runs are from Aaron Rodgers, though, so you have to assume at least some of them were designed pass plays. Benson has been getting the lion share of the carries, really almost exclusively, and has looked pretty awful. Before you get too excited about how the Packers can’t run the ball, though, their receiving core is terrifying. Greg Jennings is the main guy but he’s been limited by a groin injury. He was back Monday night so he’s on the mend and should be fine for this game. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Donald Driver give the Packers more receivers with different skillsets and all are dangerous in different ways. You’ll remember last year the Packers abused Patrick Robinson targeting him wherever he was on the field. This year I fear whoever Corey White is covering, because it’s safe to assume Rodgers will be merciless in picking on him. Johnny Patrick is probably no exception too. Jermichael Finley is also a very dangerous receiving tight end, and Roman Harper on him is another matchup nightmare. The Saints’ lack of a pass rush and lack of depth in coverage makes this matchup very bad for them, and the Packers may easily break 40 points. If I’m the Packers, this is the dream scenario defense to face. As expected the Packers’ offensive line is more about technique than physicality and they are better in pass protection than run support. This isn’t a great line by any means, though, so perhaps the Saints can expose them a little bit. Having Will Smith for this game would be nice if he can push his looming suspension back another week.
Nothing’s changed with Clay Matthews still being the star of this defense. He’s one of the elite pass rushers in the game and as bad as the Saints have been protecting Drew Brees this season, particularly on the edge, this once again presents a nightmare matchup. He somehow already has 6 sacks in just 3 games and I’m sure he’ll be adding to that total on Sunday. He is a complete linebacker that must be accounted for at all times. Interior linebacker A.J. Hawk has always graded poorly with advanced stats but he leads the team in tackles and is a recognizable name on their unit. The defense line trio of Ryan Pickett, B. J. Raji and C. J. Watson features big names from a college standpoint but they have underperformed. Still, the Saints offense has really struggled against 3-4 defenses with good linebackers and this team qualifies. On the back end Charles Woodson is still covering receivers and doing a great job of it. They have excellent defensive backs, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields especially, that cover very well. Besides Woodson and Matthews this defense doesn’t have big names but they have very solid players and they are a good defense. Right now they are #3 in the league. In this game the Saints’ only chance is to commit to the run like never before and pound the rock. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles can hurt this team. In fact, I’d consider activating Chris Ivory. I’m talking running on 60% of offensive plays, which would catch the Packers off guard. The Saints will need to run the ball often and successfully in this game because right now the blocking isn’t good enough to contain the Packers’ scary pass rush and the receivers aren’t good enough to get separation from the #1 pass defense in the NFL. My gameplan if I’m the Saints is simple: run, run, run and give the occassional play action. I know that’s not the Saints’ style and it takes the ball out of the hands of Drew Brees, but they are a good running team and this gives them their best chance in my opinion.
Mason Crosby is about as reliable as they come, he’s accurate and has an outstanding leg. I know I’d rather have him than Garrett Hartley on my roster. Tim Masthay is a third year pro and he’s getting better and better. He is off to a torrid start this season and doing a very solid job. On returns Randall Cobb is very dangerous and I don’t need to remind you what he did to the Saints last year in the opener. As you can see there won’t be any clear advantages to be had here because the Packers are exceptionally good in all phases of the game. The Saints will have to work hard to outplay the Packers on special teams. The bottom line is this: the Packers are 1-2 right now because they are unlucky, sure, but also because of the way the 49ers and Seahawks played them. Both of those teams beat the Packers but running the football down their throats and hitting Aaron Rodgers hard. It’s the only way the Saints can beat them.