Maggie's Pre-Game Six Pack - 2020 Week 3

Maggie gives you six things to look for when the Packers take on the Saints on Sunday Night Football. 

The Packers travel to New Orleans to face off against the Saints on Sunday Night Football. In what's been billed as a matchup to watch since the schedule was released, here are six things to keep an eye on Sunday night:

1. The Z Stands Alone

This is a matchup Za’Darius Smith circled on his calendar back in June. While Kenny Clark returned to practice yesterday,  and that would be an incredibly significant boost to the defense as a whole, I’m expecting a big performance from Smith this week. He has two sacks in as many games this season but only three quarterback hits. Second-year pro Rashan Gary leads the team with four.  

One key to success Sunday night is going to be getting pressure on Drew Brees. He’s got a quick release and as we saw on Monday Night Football against the Raiders, Brees isn’t afraid to dink and dunk his way down the field, taking what the defense will give him. Whether Smith is tasked with being the roaming nose tackle once again, or if he’s able to generate pressure off the edge with Gary and Preston Smith while Clark clogs the middle, hitting Brees early and often will go a long way. 

This might be Smith’s first multi-sack performance of 2020. 

2. Battle of the 2017 Backs

Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones were all drafted in 2017. Kamara went in the third, Williams in the fourth, and Jones in the fifth. Kamara just got paid, signing a five-year, $75 million deal just a few weeks ago. Both Williams and Jones are set to enter free agency this offseason, and it feels unlikely the Packers will be able to retain both backs, if either. 

A Sunday Night Football contest on the national stage will give both Packers running backs the opportunity to show not only the Packers, but also 31 other teams why they too deserve to get paid. Williams will garner a smaller deal than Jones, but he has plenty of talent to be a 1,000-yard rusher in any offense. 

Kamara is a great example of what LaFleur can do with both running backs in the second year of his scheme. In Kamara’s career, he has almost equal rushing and receiving yards with 2,503 yards on the ground and 2,214 yards through the air. That’s something Williams emphasized all offseason to be more dynamic in the passing game, and we’ve seen glimpses of both he and Jones serving a more versatile role through two weeks. 

Fun fact: Williams has 491 regular season touches (396 rushing attempts, 95 receptions) in his career and zero fumbles. 

3. No WR1, No Problem?

Actually, it kind of was a problem for the Saints on Monday Night Football. Brees struggled to spread the ball around and the free agent wide receiver Packers fans clamoured for all offseason (ahem, Emmanuel Sanders) was targeted three times with only one reception for 18 yards.

While Brees has other ways to attack the Packers defense (see Kamara, Jared Cook, and Taysom Hill because of course it would be Hill), he’s missing his security blanket, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Michael Thomas. 

For the Packers, Davante Adams has also missed practice this week, but Rodgers found success on offense last Sunday against Detroit throwing to Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and his running backs. Look for him to spread the ball around again on Sunday night in the Superdome.

Still, if Thomas and Adams are both out Sunday, it’s a letdown for fans in what was expected to be a marquee matchup between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and two top-five wide receivers. 

4. Can the Packers Serve Up Three Straight Weeks of 40-Burgers?

Per the Packers Dope Sheet, “the winning team has scored 34-plus points in seven of the last nine matchups” between the Saints and Packers, and this could be another high-scoring affair. 

So far this season, the Packers rank first overall in points for with 85. The Saints are sixth with 58. On the flip side of that, the Packers are 21st in points against with 55, and the Saints are 23rd with 57. There’s plenty of potential for both offenses to run up the score, even without the receivers that were featured in No. 3. If this game turns into a shootout, which might happen if key pieces along the defensive line are missing for both teams, it could be a case of “whoever possesses the ball last wins.”

I’m just going to clarify here that I don’t expect either team to put up 40 points this week, but previous history between the two NFC contenders does indicate that the matchups are usually pretty explosive. 

5. Red Zone Defense Critical

Two games into 2020, both the Packers and Saints are struggling with red zone defense. The Saints have given up six touchdowns in seven red zone trips for an 85.7% success rate, and the Packers have given up five touchdowns in six trips for an 83.3% success rate. 

On the flip side of that, the Saints are only averaging a 60% success rate in the red zone on offense, and the Packers are at 54.5%. Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns could make the difference on Sunday night, so it’ll be up to both defenses to get some stops when it counts.

6. Sustained Drives & 4th Down Success

This is a small sample size, but it tells an interesting story in the limited stats we have. The Saints have attempted only one fourth down conversion and were unsuccessful, but their opponents have successfully completed three out of three attempts for a 100% success rate. 

For the Packers, they’ve successfully completed two of three fourth down conversions on offense and stopped both of their opponents’ attempts for a 0% success rate. 

Head Coach Matt LaFleur knew going into this season his offense needed to work on sustaining drives. In 2019, the Packers had only a 36% completion rate on third downs, struggling to move the ball at times. That number has already improved to 52.2% in 2020. So far, the second year in LaFleur’s scheme looks promising. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (17)

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 25, 2020 at 06:48 am

1. The Z Stands Alone
I think in order for Z and Gary and Preston to have big games Pettine has to play more press man coverage. He can't allow for WR's to have quick hitting plays. Brees has always looked to get the ball out fast. Allowing WR's free releases will play into NO game.

2. Battle of the 2017 Backs
Kamara is a really good RB. He is a great pass catcher and should be our defenses focus on stopping. Hold him to 100 yards or less and I think we win.

3. No WR1, No Problem?
The problem with GB is they could be without 2 of their top offensive weapons. Adams and Deguara. Deguara only a rookie maybe our best overall TE. His versatility offers a lot of value to the offense.

4. Can the Packers Serve Up Three Straight Weeks of 40-Burgers?
Yes they can. Will they. We will have to see.

5. Red Zone Defense Critical
If we can hold the Saints to FG's that will greatly improve our chances. Brees doesn't have a downfield arm like he used to. Anything within 20 yards he is fine with. So shutting them down inside the 20 will be the key to this game.

6. Sustained Drives & 4th Down Success
Having that attitude of going for it on 4th down I believe creates a really good mindset for the team. The only 4th down that they didn't convert is the 4th and goal in which Adams drops the ball. Otherwise they'd be 3 for 3 on 4th downs. The biggest key to the success is Rodgers. He has been on fire these first 2 games.

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Tabin's picture

September 25, 2020 at 09:37 am

Deguara has catched only 1 pass as a Packer. I don´t think that he could be rank as a top offensive weapon. Last game without him they did just fine. The top offensive weapons of this team are Rogers, the OL (played two great games so far even with injuries) Adams, Jones, MVS and Lazard. So far all of them have played very well, in the downside we have Sternberger

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mnbadger's picture

September 25, 2020 at 07:43 am

Great pre-game article. The only thing to add is a score - Pack 37 Aints 30. GPG

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shmelbs's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:00 am

I miss the days when the CHTV staff made game predictions with scores...hint, hint.

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Handsback's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:01 am

Green Bay should will score a lot in this game, but their defense will make it close. I suspect Green Bay gets ahead and lets NO come back and make it close. Green Bay by 4 points.

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PeteK's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:04 am

If we rush for close to 200 it will be a win. I like badgers score.

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NickPerry's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:06 am

I'd feel a whole lot better if Adams was playing for sure but we'll have to see. The Packers went 4-0 in the games Adams didn't play in last year and it was probably the best the offense looked last year. No Adams FORCES Rodgers to trust others. But I'll say this for Rodgers, he's going back to guys who have dropped passes this year which is something I like to see.

Rodgers knows the more he spreads the ball around the harder it is for defenses to key on any one player. No Adams and you best believe the Saints try to take Jones. Hopefully Ervin is has recovered from his concussion and will be able to play. I LOVE when that kid is involved. Perhaps a little more AJ Dillion this week when Williams, Jones, and Ervin are lined up all over the field. I'd love to see Dillion running the ball against some lighter fronts when the Packers spread out a defense. Dillion on a 190 pound CB?...PRICEESS!!

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 25, 2020 at 09:01 am

I would love to see Dillon in the backfield, with Jones and Ervin out wide. Add in MVS for a deep threat and probably a TE to be able to block.

I think they could get a lot of favorable matchups with this lineup.

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dobber's picture

September 25, 2020 at 10:40 am

The question is: can Dillon keep #12 clean in the passing game?

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 25, 2020 at 11:06 am

If they hand him the ball then yes. :)

If they don't hand him the ball?

good question. I am not sure how far along he is with that type of stuff.

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Coldworld's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:41 am

For me the issue of prime focus may not be sacks but coverage and setting the edge. The NO offense is based upon quick release and run after the catch. Stretch horizontally and attack the 10 to 15 yards behind.

That means pressure up the middle is critical because it’s more about disrupting timing and lanes than sacking and OLBs will need to be guarding the edges. A lot of stress on ILBs/Hybrids therefore.

Clark, if truly healthy will be a big factor. He would free the DEs to show if they can disrupt. Z or Gary are probably going to have to disrupt heavily too. P Smith will likely be in a coverage role mostly.

I hope Greene is fully fit and on his game. I see a lot of one ILB calls and Kamara is really not a guy you want any ILB covering: he is as much a receiver as a RB.

This game will test our most dubious areas thus far. Central D line ( albeit in a different way than Cook/Peterson) and short area D.

On offense, their best receiver may be a TE. Another factor we haven’t seen really (since the Lions failed to capitalize). Again, going to play to Greene ideally. May see a lot of safeties/hybrid snaps.

On our offense, if Adams is out or limited, this game is set up for Tonyan, particularly if Deguara doesn’t go. Their DBs are better than we have seen. Our TEs need to make use of the mismatches. Can they?

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Since'61's picture

September 25, 2020 at 09:46 am

The Packers need to keep Brees and the NO offense off the field. If they win the TOP battle as they have during the first 2 games that will go a long way to securing a victory against the Saints. Get an early lead and keep the ball away from Brees as much as possible.

Defense needs to play aggressively at the LOS and not allow the Saints receivers an easy release at the snap. Brees will dink and dunk and throw to his backs all day. We need a good pass rush up the middle and we need to prevent YAC.

Even without Thomas the Saints have good speed on offense. If we can play ball control, chew up the clock and score points we’ll be OK. Once again the OL will be the key to this game and the key to keeping the Saints offense off the field. Go Pack Go!
Thanks, Since ‘61

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fansince1959's picture

September 25, 2020 at 10:51 am

I don't expect a lot of sacks even if our secondary covers well---Brees is known for his quick release so the game will mostly be decided by our suspect defense----again----it has been our achilles heal, almost every year from 2009

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splitpea1's picture

September 25, 2020 at 11:27 am

Defense: Don't get caught with your pants down on any gadget plays or decoy jobs from Taysom Hill; let's be smart and make sure the primary weapons are accounted for first.

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Spock's picture

September 25, 2020 at 11:40 am

Maggie, I wish you hadn't put the "no fumbles" item in your fun facts, now you may have jinxed Jamaal!

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Jonathan Spader's picture

September 25, 2020 at 01:47 pm

Double post.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

September 25, 2020 at 11:45 am

The reason I like the Packers over the Saints is the lack of a running game in NO. Kamara is as much a WR as RB and the Packers have shown we can shut down the passing game. Packers have a better balanced offense and can run and pass equally effective with a surprisingly good OL in 2020. Father time has finally caught Drew Brees. While Rodgers is playing at an MVP level.

The Lions were a bigger test than fams give them credit for. They were up 14-3 and had they stuck with running up the middle and throwing to Hockenson they had a good chance at winning. They dominated TOP and kept Rodgers off the field. Fortunately they are the Lions so they completely went away from what was working and imploded. Saints are a quick strike offense which can work against them Sunday.

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