When The Packers Have The Ball:
Leading up to their opener against the Vikings last year, the conventional wisdom was that the Saints would come after quarterback Brett Favre the way they had the previous year in the NFC Championship Game where they blitzed and beat up the aging superstar.
Instead, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sat back in a Cover 2 defense for most of the game and completely took the Vikings out of their gameplan, which then Vikings coach Brad Childress admitted had been almost exclusively designed to deal with Williams’ extensive pressure packages.
Fast forward to tonight and I can see something quite similar playing out. The Saints have spent the preseason blitzing the hell out of every one of their opponents. Pundits everywhere have declared how Williams is in “mid-season form” – but it would not surprise me at all to see the Saints once again sit back and make the Packers earn every yard.
There are several reasons for this but mostly because of how good Rodgers is at dissecting the blitz. Coupled with his ability to get defenses to declare prior to the snap and its a major risk for any coordinator to roll the dice against him. With as shaky as the Packers offensive line has looked this preseason, it makes a lot more sense for the Saints to sit back and coverage and let their big, physical defensive line go to work on the Pack’s o-line. If they have success getting to Rodgers early, there’s no reason for Williams to unleash the hounds.
When The Saints Have The Ball:
The Saints brought in veteran center Olin Kreutz after he was kicked to the curb by the Bears early last month. While guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are excellent, Kreutz had major trouble with B.J. Raji the last two times they faced each other in 2010. He’ll need all the help he can get no matter if its Raji or Pickett across from him.
The Saints passing game took a hit when Lance Moore was declared out but Brees is obviously still dangerous and has plenty of weapons at his disposal. While much has been made of the addition of rookie running back Mark Ingram but more worrisome is free agent addition Darren Sproles. In Norv Turner’s Chargers offense he was a problem for defenses – in Sean Payton’s Saints offense he could be a downright nightmare. Look for Capers to spread his defensive ends out a bit further than usual when Sproles is on the field to try and cut down the distance on the perimeter. Both the Packers outside backers, Erik Walden and Clay Matthews, will have problems dealing with Sproles if they find themselves one-on-one out in space.
Where the Packers have an advantage here is in the secondary – especially when Capers goes to his nickel package and kicks Woodson inside. If Payton and Brees try to get too cute in the passing game, the veteran cornerback will make their lives miserable off the edge. Fellow corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields can deal with anyone in the Saints receiving corps (though I fully expect to see Shields take a chance or two and get burned)
Overall, as I wrote for Huffington Post, the best bet for the Saints to win this game is to pound Ingram early, pound Pierre Thomas late and sprinkle in Sproles along the way.
Enough Already, Who Wins?:
These kickoff openers are always defensive affairs. It will be a close, tense game throughout. In the end, the Packers make one more play than the Saints.