Saints vs. Packers: Drawing Up a Gameplan for Green Bay
More than anything else, they cannot replicate the game they played Monday night. That seems obvious, but the team cannot continue to come out flat—especially offensively—each week.
Here's how the Packers get going early on offense and how they counter the Saints on defense.
When the Packers are on Offense
In this section lies a pretty severe sea-change, so hold onto your cheeseheads.
The Packers need to stop trying to force it downfield early on in games. That's not to say they can't throw a ball more than 20 yards, but until the offensive line gets its act together consistently, they need to change their tact.
The first half against the Seahawks was a big mess. The Packers were unable to get long passes going because of the pass rush. Now, New Orleans' pass rush these days is not very good.
They do have seven sacks, so they aren't totally without the ability to get pressure, and it puts them in the middle of the league when ranking for that. They have, as NFC South lead writer Knox Bardeen points out, adapting to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's new scheme slowly.
The can get beat short. They can also be beat on the ground.
The Saints are dead last against the run. This isn't a matter of 'they aren't getting run on because you can throw on them, as it sometimes is, especially early in the season.
No, this team is legitimately bad against the run. Nobody has been run on more. They have been run on more than 50 times the next team. Some of that is because they have trailed a lot this season so far. Some of it is they simply have issues stopping the run.
This is perfect timing for the Packers because they need to start running the ball.
That's right—the high-flying offense that is Green Bay (or was) needs to come to earth and get in the mud.
They know this or they wouldn't have signed Cedric Benson. And if it wasn't clear in the first two weeks, it became crystal-clear against the Seahawks.
Because as bad as the officiating was, the Packers put themselves in the bad position they were in with an atrocious first half. Why they waited until halftime to adjust what was happening is a mystery.
Hopefully, they adjust before the game this week.
Aside from the Saints being susceptible to the run in general, having Benson carry the ball early and often will help set up the other change I propose.
Lot's of short passes, specifically short passes to Randall Cobb.
The Packers want to get him more touches, and the easiest way to do that is to hit him short and let his dynamic playmaking ability take over right away.
The short game will draw the defense in (along with the ground attack) and give guys like Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings a chance to run by the coverage.
The Saints do have some pretty good players in the secondary, though the unit hasn't played up to their ability.
However, as much as the offense might be able to immediately tear it apart, that won't help them going forward when they face tough pass rushes down the road.
They have to make this adjustment now, when they are facing someone who isn't playing all that well.
Amazingly, that would be the Saints.
So run the ball, set up the playaction, pass short and intermediate routes and get the ball out of Rodgers' hand early (some of which just comes down to him moving quicker), so if the line struggles again, he doesn't get sacked seven times in a half.
When the Packers are on Defense
The Saints are still moving the ball through the air (though stats have been padded by what amounts to garbage time) and not moving the ball well on the ground (ranked 22nd in the league).
Neither is really a terrible shock, though the complete misuse of Darren Sproles is.
So far, the offense has either had Sproles catch the ball or run the ball—never both in the same game. Last season, when he was insanely productive, Sproles always did at least a little of both.
His versatility is what made him dangerous. When he was in the backfield (or on the field at all), you never knew what he was going to do.
This year, once he starts doing something, you can be sure that's his role for the day.
The Packers should assume that, given the Saints are pretty desperate to turn things around, they will start balancing his workload out a bit more. The problem is, they have used Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas as well, and that's part of the issue.
The Saints just haven't figured out how to balance the backfield effectively.
Be that as it may, the Packers need to make sure they keep one eye on the run as they play—for all the fact that the Saints are struggling on the ground, they can still break a big play on occasion.
The bigger concern is, of course, the passing offense. Drew Brees is hurling the ball around just as much as in previous years, but he's also turning the ball over far more (five interceptions so far), and he's been sacked five times, though hit far more and under constant pressure.
The Packers should be able to take advantage of this.
Clay Matthews definitely has the advantage over left tackle Jeremy Bushrod, who has allowed one sack, but four quarterback hits and 15 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber content).
Matthews may find himself double teamed, but that just makes an opening for Ryan Pickett or Jerel Worthy.
On the other side, the rotation of Nick Perry and Eric Walden will take on Zach Strief, who has given up two sacks and seven hurries as well as a hit.
The Packers should try to mix up their blitzes and pass rushes a bit—bring Charles Woodson in off the edge at safety maybe.
Keep Brees guessing and overload the tackles as much as possible.
There is a strong chance this could be a big day for Matthews, as he bounces back from a rough outing against the Seahawks.
The secondary will need to be on point this week, but there is excellent opportunity to generate turnovers if the pass rush gets in Brees' face.
As I said a moment ago, Brees is turning the ball over a lot (a result of the high number of pressures and hits), so look for Woodson, Tramon Williams, MD Jennings and company to jump some routes and try to bait Brees into some badly thought out throws.
The Saints like to throw—if they can get pressure, that's just what the Packers will want them to do.
The Packers need to use this game to straighten some things out offensively and get back on track defensively.
It's my opinion that a change needs to happen and that the Packers need to balance out their attack more—working in Benson more heavily and, while not abandoning the deep ball altogether, throttling it back.
The offensive line is not allowing Rodgers to wait for Jennings, Finley or Nelson to get open deep, and until that changes—frankly, even beyond that—the Packers need to offset that issue with quicker routes and passes.
They do that, and the Packers will win this game for sure, but more importantly, be in a better position to win games down the road.
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