Gameday: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers, keep your eye on…
By Keith Null
1. The Saints entire defensive unit will undoubtedly have their hands full in keeping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense in check.
Rodgers is above average against the blitz, notching a league best 107.4 passer rating when facing five or more rushers in 2010. He also excelled on third down, so it will be interesting to see exactly how defensive coordinator Gregg Williams decides to play Rogers — blitz heavy or coverage.
Tight end Jermichael Finley is a definite x-factor in the contest. He’s big, fast, and has a chip on his shoulder given all the off season talk surrounding the Saints and Eagles as potential NFC Superbowl representatives.
Historically the Saints have struggled to cover tight ends under Williams, and now he must figure out how to keep Finley in check with some combination of safety/linebacker coverage throughout the contest.
As head coach Sean Payton put it in the Superbowl when facing the Colts super star tight end Dallas Clark — they cannot allow one tight end to beat them. In this case that would be Finley.
2. Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers has probably taken notice that the Saints have two new starters on the offensive line this season — veteran center Olin Kruetz and right tackle Zach Strief.
While Kreutz, formerly with the Bears, is very familiar with the Packers defensive line having played in the NFC North, it seems likely that Capers will talk his best pass rusher in Clay Matthews and line him up nearly exclusively against Zach Strief.
Early on the Saints will likely be forced to bail Strief out either with an additional tight end, or by lining up a running back to chip Matthews on his way to the quarterback. Whoever wins this match-up on the right side will likely be on the team who wins the game.
3. Rookie running back Mark Ingram will be relied on heavily to get production on the ground against the Packers. He has looked good in the preseason, but the Saints need him to perform very well tonight or their chances at winning get incrementally smaller.
If the Packers are able to take away the Saints run game and force them into a one dimensional offense, relying heavily on the arm of Drew Brees, then it’s likely to be a long night for the offense and an even worse game for Brees.
Ingram will be called on in short yardage and goal situations, making his performance even that more paramount to a successful Saints game and hopeful 1-0 start.
4. Sean Payton’s play calling took a step back in 2010, and the near perfect run to pass ratio that made them so successful in 2009 was notably absent in last years offense.
Injuries certainly played a large role in why the Saints fell back to Brees, and strictly passing the ball down after down, but Payton must have faith in his run game whether it’s picking up yards or not.
Too many times last season the Saints were stuffed for little to no gain on the ground and Payton would quickly abandon the run game and look to the air. This year he must stick to run calls when things are tough, or risk another mediocre offensive season.
Brees is an amazing quarterback which makes it hard not to want to put the ball in his hands play after play. Last season he threw a career high 22 interceptions, largely in part to the lack of overall balance in the offense.
Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles should usher in a new era for the Saints when it comes to revamping the rush offense — Payton just needs to trust them — especially against the Packers.