Game Preview: Packers at Saints, Week 8

What to watch when Green Bay travels to New Orleans to meet the Saints in a nationally-televised game Sunday night.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers instructs his players by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers instructs his players by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

The Green Bay Packers (5-2) travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a date with the New Orleans Saints (2-4) on Oct. 26 for a nationally-televised game on NBC's Sunday Night Football.

 

The Big Picture: What's at Stake?

Winners of four straight games after a 1-2 start to the season, the Packers are looking to go into their bye week as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

With a 2-4 record, a fifth loss would be costly for the Saints and their quest for the playoffs, but this is a different team at the Superdome. Owners of a 19-game home winning streak and 13 consecutive home games in primetime, this Saints team isn't about to roll over.

 

What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball

A) Aaron Rodgers' Touchdown-to-Interception Ratio: When Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns and no interceptions on his way to being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he became the first players in NFL history to throw at least 18 touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions through the first seven games of a season.

The Packers currently rank first in the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential, in large part due to Rodgers protecting the football and a big reason they have a 5-2 record. The Saints, meanwhile, are near the bottom of the NFL, ranked 29th, with a negative-7 differential.

If Rodgers can continue to avoid turnovers while hitting his talented receiving corps for a couple touchdowns against a Saints defense that ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing an average of 270.5 yards through the air per game, the Packers will stand a good chance of winning in a difficult road environment.

B) Dealing with Speed Off the Edge: Pass rushers with a quick first step can be problematic, especially on field turf, so Packers offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga will have to be on high alert on Sunday evening.

Neither tackle looked particularly good against the Miami Dolphins, but turned things around last week versus the Carolina Panthers with both Bakhtiari and Bulaga earning game balls from the Packers coaching staff.

That good performance was on the comparatively slow Lambeau Field grass, however. It's back to a domed environment, where the Packers tackles will have to deal with speedy Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette getting a jump off the line of scrimmage.

C) The Eddie Lacy/James Starks Timeshare: After getting zero touches in Week 4 against the Chicago Bears, Packers coach Mike McCarthy vowed not to allow that to happen to Starks again.

Since that time, Starks has been a part of the Packers' game plan, getting 12, eight and seven rushed in the next three games and scoring a touchdown against the Panthers, while sharing carries with reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, Eddie Lacy.

Starks, however, injured an ankle in the Panthers game, perhaps limiting him to a reduced role. If so, DuJuan Harris may play more at running back than he has in weeks.

 

What to Watch When the Saints Have the Ball

A) Matching Up with Jimmy Graham: Tight end. Wide receiver. It doesn't matter. Graham is a match-up nightmare. He has, however, been slowed by injury recently.

Since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 5, Graham hasn't been the same player. Used primarily as a decoy last week against the Detroit Lions, Graham didn't catch a single pass. But if his health improves and he's back to his normal self, the Packers will have to look out.

Asked specifically how the Packers would cover Graham earlier this week, McCarthy acted coy. "Jimmy Graham is a tough match-up, no doubt," said McCarthy. "How you play him, that's really what the game's for. He's a very talented individual, just how he attacks the middle of the field. They use him down the boundary on the corner routes and so forth too. But he's definitely someone you have to be smart with."

B) Drew Brees Picking on the Secondary: The last time the Packers played in New Orleans, Brees basically did whatever he wanted while cruising to a 51-29 victory back in 2008. And even though the Saints have just a 2-4 record this season, they have to respect what Brees and his pinpoint accuracy are capable of doing in the Superdome.

It's possible that the Packers will be without two starters in their secondary as safety Morgan Burnett (calf) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) nurse themselves back to health. Even without Burnett and Shields, however, the Packers have been in good shape with fantastic depth in the defensive secondary.

With prolific play from the likes of Casey Hayward, Davon House and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers have been able to limit opponents to a league-leading 74.0 passer rating. Holding Brees to a subpar passer rating at home, however, is a momentous challenge.

C) Pressure without Blitzing: Last week, Clay Matthews responded to criticism by applying plenty of pressure to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. And he wasn't the only one. Julius Peppers came up with 1.5 sacks and Nick Perry also had one of his own.

Matthews, Peppers and Perry joined Neal in the Packers' new NASCAR package, utilizing several of their Elephant-end type of pass rushers in long down-and-distance situations.

One key for the Packers on Sunday will be to apply pressure without having to blitz, no matter if it's their linebackers or their defensive linemen. Brees is extremely accurate as it is, and leaving holes in the zone will only make it easier for him.

 

What to Watch on Special Teams

The Ball in Randall Cobb's Hands: Cobb was arguably the MVP of the Packers' last game against the Panthers when considering what he did both on offense and on special teams.

In addition to catching six passes for 121 yards and a touchdown last week, Cobb averaged 19.0 yards on two punt returns, helping put the Packers in good field position. McCarthy said after the game, "Randall needs to touch the football. ... It doesn't matter how you get it to him."

It was against the Saints when Cobb burst on the scene in his first NFL game as a rookie when he tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return. The Saints likely won't have forgotten.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Comments (18)

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Lphill's picture

October 24, 2014 at 03:24 pm

Packers must go on the road and play smart football, Saints defense is not as good as the Dolphins and Panthers, so this is a good test for the Pack on both sides of the ball, if Rodgers hot hand continues then we should be fine, I also think Lacy is going to have a nice game on the turf.

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Bohj's picture

October 24, 2014 at 04:42 pm

I just like Rob Ryan. He's so blitz happy. Keep blitzin big guy. Rodgers loves him some Blitzes. Hot reads to guys like Cobb and Nelson? Yeah.....Good luck with that.

Oh....... did I mention that Rodgers has his best passer rating ever against Rob Ryan? 155 and change?

Last time was outdoors against wookie Ryan. I'm afraid to see what this will look like indoors. Could get ugly for them. I think our offense will be fine if we hold on to the ball and don't commit timely penalties.

Hopefully our team will go up first by a few tuddys and then we can just keep teeing off on Brees with NASCAR.

27-17 PACK.

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Evan's picture

October 24, 2014 at 06:53 pm

27 against that defense seems conservative.

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packsmack's picture

October 25, 2014 at 10:11 am

Rob Ryan actually doesn't blitz very much, he's usually in the bottom third of the league. It's a common misconception about his defense.

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packsmack's picture

October 26, 2014 at 10:00 am

That's right Danny, they make a lot of things look like a blitz, but more often than not, they drop 7 men into coverage at the snap.

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Bohj's picture

October 26, 2014 at 06:17 pm

I disagree strongly. When we played him when he was in Cleveland he blitzed on 46% of snaps. That is a ridiculous amount.

And this year the saints are ranked 7th in blitz packages. Which makes him relatively blitz happy.

Both of these stats were in that jsonline article about the Ryan brothers and what Rodgers will be looking for.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

October 24, 2014 at 05:56 pm

I hope we double Jimmy all game and force those average WRs to beat us and Brees play a near perfect game.

Also, I hope our run-defense doesn't have 1 of those games where they're not ready. The Saints have more than capable runners and that can cause this to be an even closer game than we'd like.

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Bohj's picture

October 24, 2014 at 06:03 pm

Do you feel Brees has lost something......or do you feel it is more of an offensive line issue?

I just feel so skeptical about calling out elite QB's.

Two years ago they were wondering if Manning still had it.
This year they were calling out Brady.
Four weeks ago......it was...Rodgers lost something with his accuracy.

These guys are all elite for a reason. When Zach pulled out his stats on how many hurries the Saints O-line has given up, I changed my mind about Brees. I think he still has it.

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Tundraboy's picture

October 24, 2014 at 10:43 pm

I agree that is why I'm a nervous wreck this week, Still I think Rodgers as hot as he is and that Lacy and Starks. Nelson Adams and Cobb are going to have great games and we blow them out a la Atlanta, Think the D wants to show on a big stage they are for real. I'm going with my gut

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DrealynWilliams's picture

October 24, 2014 at 06:02 pm

Maaaan,I'm watching the Panthers game (again) and there's a play where Aaron Rodgers completed a 6-yd hitch route to Jordy. Amazing.....that just before snapping the ball he tells Jordy," it's Quarters" and the play called was a RB screen!

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Guisado's picture

October 24, 2014 at 08:42 pm

Thanks Brian. Great assessment.

It doesn't get much tougher than a game in NOLA, but I see the Pack rolling 'em. 2014 is just starting to feel special. This is a statement game tee'd up for either team ready to make a statement.

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JimTaylor31's picture

October 25, 2014 at 06:15 am

I wish I was as optimistic as most everyone else. I just don't have a good feeling about this one. This isn't a "must" win by any means for the Packers but it would be very great to into the bye and half way mark at 6-2. The Saints lost a very tough game last week in Detroit and I see them coming out with very high energy. A very dangerous team especially at home. I'm kinda thinking whoever has the ball last (Brees or Rodgers) will win this one.

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Samson's picture

October 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

With AR playing again at an MVP level, the only chance the Saints have of pulling out this game (even at home) is if GB turns the ball over at least 2X more than the Saints. Not going to happen.

Pack 34 --- Saints 24. ---- Another win against a losing team. (waiting for the Eagles & Pats to provide a little comp)

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JimTaylor31's picture

October 25, 2014 at 07:01 pm

Ditto. Winning at NO would be a big deal. Very tough assignment anytime and given the Saints have underachieved we should see their "A" game.

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Lphill's picture

October 25, 2014 at 03:19 pm

Jimmy Graham is listed as Questionable, even if he plays he is not 100 %, we Have to go with the hot team and that is the Packers. I thnk Lacy will have a big day on the turf . Pack 30 Saints 21

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White92's picture

October 25, 2014 at 03:58 pm

I just don't think the Saints are that good. Graham is hurting, their top running backs are out, and their defense isn't that good. The only thing really going for the Saints is that they are tough at home. Rodgers also happens to be real good in domes. I think the Green and Gold take this one rather handily, something like 34-17.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

October 26, 2014 at 02:34 pm

I know, I couldn't believe that garbage. 2 weeks ina row.

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Mojo's picture

October 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The Falcons sssssssSSSSSSSSUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCK!

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