It'll Be Big, But It Won't Be EasyPosted:Oct 24th, 2014 3:09 pm
When the schedule came out and we saw the prime time game in New Orleans, most of us penciled in an "L." After all, Drew Brees and the Saints are virtually unbeatable at home, right?
Well they are 2-0, but they've struggled to get past both the Vikings and Buccaneers, needing overtime to dispatch the (at the time) winless latter. On the road they've been their usual mini-me version of the Saints, winless in four games this season.
They return home for just the third time Sunday night, fresh on the heels of handing a victory over the Lions and clearly they are a team in turmoil. Their defense has taken a major step backward, thanks in large part to injuries in the secondary. Their offense has yet to find its mojo. Drew Brees is being pressured and some of his favorite targets are banged up.
And now they welcome the hottest team north of Dallas; the Pack comes to town at the top of its game, clicking in all three phases. But they know they will face a desperate Saints team, one that knows that at 2-4 they're still in the thick of the NFC South race, but one that can't afford to lose at home. They save their best efforts for prime time and I have no doubt the Pack will get their best effort.
When Brees has the ball he will have limited options on the ground. It looks like both Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson will miss the game, which means Mark Ingram will be asked to handle much of the ball carrier duties. The former Bama star, whose career has gotten off to a slow start, was coming into his own as the season started. But an injury knocked him out for a few weeks and he returned in a limited fashion against the Lions. With Green Bay's below average run defense, the Saints would like to give him a heavy load; whether he's up to the challenge remains to be seen.
The passing game continues to go through tight end Jimmy Graham, who remains the game's most dangerous red zone target. But he's fighting back from injury as well, getting very limited snaps last week after resting it during the bye week. Bree still has the reliable Marques Colton on the inside and some talented youngsters on the outside in Kenny Stills and rookie speedster Brandin Cooks. Brees has made some mistakes forcing balls into tight spots this season--if he tries it on Sunday night the opportunistic Packers secondary might make him pay.
At this point the status of Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett are up in the air. Neither has practiced this week and with the bye coming up, expect the team to err on the side of caution. The depth back there makes it palatable. Damon House (who should be fine with his dislocated finger) is earning starter dollars and Williams and Hayward are both playing very well. Ha Ha Clinton Dix has earned a starting spot at safety and can slide over to Burnett's spot for a week, with Micah Hyde alongside him.
Where the Pack should roll this week is offensively. The Saints defense, led by the gambler Rob Ryan, has been atrocious. They allowed the Buccaneers to put up 31 points at the Superdome and have been torched by good passing offenses. They need a strong pass rush to mask a depleted secondary that has lost two corners and their top safety, former Bill Jairus Byrd. Look for Rodgers to pick on CBs Corey White and Patrick Robinson. Their top corner, Keenan Lewis, has been limited in practice with knee and shoulder issues. Ryan loves to blitz, to protect the back end, but he can't do that against Rodgers or he will pay a steep price.
Eddie Lacy would like nothing more than to have a monster night in his first game back in his hometown, but the Saints rank 11th in the league against the run. Their problem is against the pass (28th) and getting off the field on third down, where they rank 26th.
Where these teams differ most is in the all important turnover differential. The Pack leads the league at plus ten, while the Saints languish near the bottom at minus seven. Rodgers hasn't given away since he implored us to relax and if that continues Sunday, the Pack may be too much for the shuffling Saints.
Sean Payton is calling for a blackout, so the scene will be loud and ghoulish. But the opening night horror in Seattle has steeled Green Bay for this setting. The team is on a roll and has won 10 straight games in the month of October. Most expect a shootout and it's hard to argue with that. The hot team beats the desperate team.
Packers 31 Saints 28