What a difference a year makes. A year ago the New Orleans Saints were gearing up to take on the Green Bay Packers. The Saints were eager to rebound from a disappointing first round loss at Seattle and the Packers had a jacked up Lambeau Field eager to celebrate their team’s recent Super Bowl win.
But what’s wrong with Green Bay? After all, this is a team that went 15-1 last season and currently where the reigning NFL MVP resides.
“We tried some different things and did some little things adjustment wise in camp, probably didn’t have it as honed as we’d like,” says Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “I’m confident that our better days are ahead. I didn’t think we’d be where we are as I stand where I am right now, but we’ve had some rough patches, whether it was as a run blocking unit in week one. Catching the football has not been where it needs to be. In our game Monday night, we obviously had protection issues the whole first half.”
Seattle Rodgers eight times in the first half last Monday night. “Obviously, we want to cut down on the number of sacks and we all have to take our part in that,” Rodgers says of the hope a repeat sack performance doesn’t happen Sunday. “It’s obviously a point of emphasis after last week.”
There is some confidence though that the Black and Gold can take advantage of a struggling Green Bay offensive line. “It definitely made me excited for this upcoming week,” says Saints defensive end Cam Jordan. “I mean there is a lot of things that hopefully will go right for us. I’m not going to go into the game plan but it’s looking promising.”
We all know by now the Packers lost to Seattle 14-12 but really should have won the game either way it is now a story line heading into Sunday’s kick off. How will it affect the Packers? Will they come out extra motivated? One can reasonably expect Green Bay to play with a chip on its shoulders, but when asked about said chip Saints players were quick to point out one of their own. Green Bay is trying to not make it an issue.
"We need to stay focused," McCarthy said of his philosophy he’ll use to move forward from the heartbreaking loss. "The fact of the matter is we're about New Orleans. We're in tune with staying true to the integrity of the Green Bay Packers, how we conduct ourselves, being professional during a tough time, during a challenge."
“You learn in this league that every loss is difficult. It’s even more when it shouldn’t have been a loss,” says Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who stresses the best way to move forward is to focus on the things he can control. “The easy way to move forward is to look in the mirror and take ownership of the part you’ve played in the two losses. I personally have done that. I haven’t played good in the first three weeks. If I had played better, we probably wouldn't have been in that position and wouldn't have allowed the refs to make the calls they made.”
That’s the same position the Saints are holding on to, what can they do to turn things around? “I think it goes back to fundamentals. Let’s do the little things right. Let’s make sure our sets are perfect and let’s really be critical of ourselves on tape,” says Saints right tackle Zack Strief. “Let’s make sure that nothing goes over looked and that it’s not okay because it’s practice and let’s really focus on the fundamentals.”
At 0-3 the Saints know this isn't a must win game. It is a if we have hopes to make to the playoffs game. A 0-4 start with Atlanta playing solid football and hosting Carolina could really put the team’s chances of winning the NFC South low.
The Saints offense is hoping to get back to the form that broke offensive records last season. Speaking of records Brees with one more touchdown pass will tie Johnny Unitas’s record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
“Each game I feel like we've gotten better. We've had our moments. We haven’t put it all together yet but we are getting close to where we want to be and where we know we can be and should be and will be,” says Brees. “This is a hard game. It’s hard to win. In the end I think we’re going to be better off for it but we need a win.”
Everything heading into this game screams take the Packers. The offensive line was embarrasses on national television giving up 8 sacks. The defense was on the field when “the call” took place and are probably thirsting for revenge. That’s just the emotional take. Green Bay won 15 games last year by having the highest scoring offense in the league. Ah but that is where my ray of hope lies.
The Packers offense is like the Saints offense right now, struggling to find that top notch form. Green Bay averaging just 19 points per game scored just 12 last week. The Saints defense, yea I know gave up 510 yards of offense to Kansas City, but the Chiefs were held to six fields goals and only one touchdown in the game. I understand Green Bay has better talent on offense, I’m just saying the defense did play better in that game. So what if the Saints can say limit Green Bay to a pair of touchdowns and a field goal or two? Keep the Packers in the low 20’s?
Then it is up to the Saints offense to put up point. This season they have shown they can do it in stretches and in other stretches you’d think preseason was still going on.
First and foremost Brees and company can’t turn the ball over. They just can’t. That means you too hundred million dollar man. Green Bay makes a good play on the ball or trick you with coverage I can live with that. A bad decision interception is what can’t happen like in Carolina out of your end zone and against Kansas City where Devery was never open.
Secondly, can the Saints please try and run the football.12 out of the 16 games last season the Saints rushed for over 100 yards in a game. They finished the season 13-3. I don’t care if you “throw to set up the run” or head into the game with the plan to run it first. Run the ball. It slows the pass rush which is what teams are doing this season to the Saints as they are completely selling out on play in an attempt to get to Brees. The run game also runs clock and keeps Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense on the sideline.
I think the Saints can do all of this. Take the fact that loss puts the Saints hopes of winning the division on life support and post season hopes will seem like crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The first quarter will be the key. It was 21-7 at the end of one last year. No doubt Lambeau Field will be rocking to start the game because of Monday night’s tragedy and the Packers will be playing pumped up. Survive the first and you can survive the game. Turn the game into a second half affair and you have a shot. The Saints have trailed by 15 points in the fourth quarter in two of the three games.
I just feel Brees and the Saints offense will not let this one get away. 34-31 Saints in a game that could be decided in the final two minutes of play.