The last time Aaron Rodgers faced the New Orleans Saints, things started out fine. Rodgers led the offense to 21 first half points, keeping up with a high powered Saints offense in what looked to be shaping up into an epic shootout.
Of course, Packer fans remember all too well how that game got away from the Packers. A lot has been made this week about how the defense basically collapsed that night down in New Orleans, which it most certainly did. But there has been little mention of the interceptions thrown by Rodgers that led to several short fields which the Saints easily converted into points.
Rodgers is obviously a different quarterback now. And the Saints defense is different as well. What remains the same, however, is the need for Rodgers and his receivers to be on the same page when it comes to reading what Gregg Williams' defense is doing on any given snap. Rodgers and his perimeter receivers in particular will have to be on the same page in regards to what they are seeing from the secondary. We saw this issue pop up a lot last year, especially early, where the receiver on the outside would read the coverage as one thing while Rodgers would read it as another - which ended up with some very ugly looking plays with Rodgers throwing seemingly to no one on attempted back shoulder throws as the receiver continued to run a nine route down the field.
One encouraging sign has been the backshoulder touchdowns Rodgers has thrown to Jennings this preseason. The two have certainly looked synced up at times. However, there have also been plays like this:
Rodgers has all day while he scans the field before finding Jennings. What's interesting is how Jennings runs his route and where Rodgers places his throw. Watch Jennings in the second part of this video in particular:
Notice how Jennings is running an Out - while Rodgers seems to be throwing a deep Turn In. It's a small distinction, but its clear that Rodgers expects Jennings to work back toward the line of scrimmage while Jennings is running straight to the sideline. (You can actually catch what looks like Rodgers giving Jennings a little bit of the business after the play on the broadcast tape, seemingly telling him he needs to work back to the quarterback)
It's an incredibly small thing - but it can make all the difference, especially tonight as the Saints are throwing multiple looks at the offense. Knowing when to sit down in the zone (one of Driver's most underrated assets), seeing when the corner turns his hips in man coverage to give the receiver an opening to break down on a comeback, knowing when and how to employ a rip move when a corner continues to press the receiver at the line (Tom Walsh had a great quote about receivers fighting off bump and run: "The receiver must think of being in a phone booth with the only way out being directly behind the defender") - all these details and many, many more will go a long way toward the Packers receivers being able to make the offense click the way it needs to.
Rodgers and his receivers need to be absolutely sure they are in agreement about what they expect to do if they see certain looks from the Saints, and then they have to execute. There have been times, like Ruvell Martin in that 2008 Saints game or James Jones last year in the Patriots game, where we've seen Packers receivers run the right route but not execute it fully, resulting in interceptions. That's a big danger when you're dealing with a blitzing defense like Gregg Williams'. You can bet those cornerbacks will be looking to disrupt the timing of the Packers' routes early, trying to keep them off schedule long enough for the blitz to get home. Fighting through on those slant and smash plays could be the difference between prolonged drives and a turnover.
The loss of an offseason is no excuse - the Packers chose not to work together, often citing the fact that they know their system and can execute it with minimal fine tuning.
Tonight against the Saints will provide an excellent first test of that theory.
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