Saints vs Packers: 10 Keys to the Game for Green Bay
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The Saints have a beef with the NFL commissioner for what they felt was going overboard on suspensions in the wake of "Bountygate" while the Packers will have a hard time forgiving the commissioner for the replacement-official fiasco that took place on Monday Night Football.
What's past is past, however, and both teams can only look forward to Sunday and hope for a victory. Here's what the Packers need to do to get by the Saints.
Win the Inspirational Battle
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The Saints came into the 2012 season knowing they'd be battling adversity all year long.
Without head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis for the entire year, without defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, without interim coach Joe Vitt for six games and the uncertainty surrounding the suspended players, the Saints have had one of the most tumultuous offseasons in the history of the NFL.
The Packers' vitriol is a recent development. However much pain they felt on Monday evening when an referee's ruling robbed them of a victory, the emotion was renewed when the NFL came to agreement with the officials' association on Wednesday evening.
In the opinion of Packers' fans, it was two days too late.
There's really no option for the Packers but to let Monday's incident serve as motivation for the rest of the season, which starts now. Although the season is still in its early stages, both teams enter Sunday's game with a below .500 record, which makes it all the more important for each side.
Perhaps the Packers will have some extra motivation from recent comments by Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer, who rationalized the Packers' recent loss to the Seahawks on the final play of the game by saying, "That's football" in an interview posted on the Packers' official website.
For what's sure to be an emotionally-charged game such as this one, no sources of inspiration can be overlooked.
Take Advantage of Poor Saints Run Defense
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After giving up 233 rushing yards alone to Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs last week, the Saints are ranked 32nd in the NFL.
The Saints are the only team in the NFL giving up an average of over 200 rushing yards per game, far outdistancing anyone else. As a point of comparison, the 31st-ranked team—the Cincinnati Bengals—are allowing 155 rushing yards per contest.
Even though the Packers aren't known for having a powerful running game, they have to make a concerted effort to attack a team at its weakest point.
Getting Cedric Benson on track is a must, but getting some contribution from Randall Cobb, John Kuhn, Alex Green and Co. is necessary too. The more success the Packers have on the ground, the more it's going to open up their passing game.
Go After Corey White
Corey White (24)
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The Packers' passing game has been struggling to hit its stride early in the 2012 season, and it hasn't helped that they've played three really good defensive teams.
As fate would have it, the Packers may have found the solution to fix what's ailing them.
In an appearance on the Railbird Central podcast at CheeseheadTV.com on Wednesday, Nathan Jahnke of ProFootballFocus.com said of the Saints' defense, "They have a rookie, Corey White, starting who's already allowed 14 catches for 203 yards, so the Packers should be able to pick up their passing game against this defense after playing a bunch of teams that are good in terms of their secondary."
No matter who's lined up across from White, whether it's Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson or some other Packers receiver, they will find one of their easier matchups of the season.
After combing for 24 touchdowns a season ago, neither Jennings nor Nelson has found the end zone yet this season, so they'll be looking to break that seal on Sunday against the Saints.
Don't Get Outcoached
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The Packers made a major blunder in the first half of the Seahawks game by calling a pass-happy, receiver-heavy offense.
Of the Packers' 27 offensive snaps in Monday's first half, 24 were designed pass plays while only three were runs. The major imbalance between the run and the pass allowed the Seahawks to not honor the Packers' run game and just tee off on their pass rush.
The result was eight sacks given up by the Packers, and the blame falls primarily in the lap of head coach and offensive play-caller Mike McCarthy.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, it's assumed a major reason the Saints have gotten off to an 0-3 start this season has been due to the coaching turnover, with Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt all suspended.
There's no reason McCarthy and the Packers should be outcoached by a group led by Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer.
Rodgers Needs to Be Better Than Brees
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Neither Aaron Rodgers nor Drew Brees has gotten off to spectacular start to the 2012 season, which is rather surprising for a pair of former Super Bowl MVPs still in the prime of their careers.
Brees has only completed 54.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions, which have contributed to a passer rating of just 77.0.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has thrown three touchdowns compared to two interceptions with a passer rating that's not much better at 87.0. Additionally, Rodgers has endured an NFL-high 16 sacks
Both Rodgers and Brees rank near the bottom of the NFL in average yards per completion at 6.5 and 6.6 yards, respectively, which means neither of them have had many long gains through the air.
The difference in Sunday's game could come down to one play. The winner could be the team whose quarterback connects on one long touchdown pass or the quarterback that refuses to throw an interception, which is why Rodgers has to be at least one play better than his counterpart on the opposing sidelines.
Bounce Back on Offensive Line
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After giving up eight sacks in the first half alone to the Seahawks in Week 3 and a league-leading 16 overall, it's time for the Packers offensive line to pick up its play.
For the most part, the interior of the line has graded out positively, so the burden falls primarily on the Packers tackles.
Through three games, Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga have each had their share of struggles. Newhouse started with a positive performance against the 49ers in Week 1 but hasn't played at the same level since. As for Bulaga, he had a particularly poor performance versus the Seahawks, but he hasn't been on top of his game the entire season.
Luckily for them, they face a Saints pass rush on Sunday that hasn't been anything to write home about.
"They've only had 34 overall pressures this season, which in comparison, the Packers as a team have had 50," said Nathan Jahnke on CheeseheadTV.com's Railbird Central. "The Saints have played quarterbacks who like to hold onto the football so the Saints should have gotten more pressure in that time."
If there was ever a time for the Packers offensive line to pitch a shutout in terms of giving up sacks, Sunday would be it.
Limit Sproles' Effectiveness
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You might remember the Packers getting a win against the Saints last season, but it wasn't for the way they bottled up running back Darren Sproles, who had 75 yards on seven receptions.
A.J. Hawk had a particularly difficult assignment being tasked to cover Sproles coming out of the backfield, and the linebacker frequently trailed his man in coverage.
The story was the same much of the season as the Packers inside linebackers had trouble covering much faster opposing running backs, and they haven't found it any easier in 2012.
So far this season, Sproles is averaging 8.9 yards per rush on seven carries and is leading the Saints in receiving with 18 catches for 163 yards. The Packers need to figure out a way to keep the Saints running back in check. Maybe they're heading in that direction by using their dime-package personnel more than they did a season ago.
Maintain Success in Pass Defense
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So far in 2012, the Packers have been very successful defending the pass. For proof, look no further than the statistics that show the Packers have the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL by giving up only 125.3 yards per game.
Granted, part of the reason for their lofty ranking is that opponents have found it easier to run on the Packers, but this is still major progress for the team that gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL last season.
The reasons for success are numerous, but it starts up front with a ferocious pass rush generated by linebacker Clay Matthews.
Solid play in the secondary has also been a key to success, as the Packers have gotten a lot of mileage out of their young defensive backs, namely Sam Shields and rookies Jerron McMillian and Casey Hayward.
Additionally, the Packers have also received solid play from their stalwart defenders in the defensive backfield, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Green Bay will look to keep playing at a high level against a Saints passing game that has labored to find consistency this season.
Get Cobb His Touches
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Ever since being used as a dual-threat running back and receiver in Week 1 against the 49ers when he had nine catches for 77 yards, Randall Cobb's playing has surprisingly decreased.
Cobb's offensive snap count has gone from 35 to 20 to nine in the first three games, which seems like a mistake for a player who has been so explosive with the ball in his hands and has been a menace for opponents to tackle.
Part of the reason for the decreased workload in Week 3 was when the Packers used personnel packages that were heavy on running backs and tight ends in the second half of the game, but nine snaps is still far too low.
It's understandable that the Packers want to keep Cobb fresh for his return duties on special teams, but his 35 snaps in Week 1 accounted for only 51 percent of the team's total offensive plays, so it's not like he's being overused.
It's absolutely imperative the Packers get Cobb on the field and feed him the football in as many different ways possible, whether it's in the backfield, the slot or going in motion. He's a threat and forces teams to game plan specifically for him.
Create Momentum on Special Teams
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Even though the Packers lost in Week 1 to the 49ers, it was Randall Cobb's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown that sparked a second-half comeback.
In Week 2, Tom Crabtree's touchdown on a fake field goal opened the floodgates against the Bears.
The Packers special teams has truly been special so far in 2012, and it's been the big play that's triggered success on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football.
It's unrealistic to expect the Packers to score touchdowns every week on special teams, there are other ways to create momentum.
A long field goal by Mason Crosby, a turnover forced on kickoff coverage or a punt downed inside the five-yard line are all ways to get the team feeling good about itself.