Green Bay Packers: Stat Projections for Key Starters and Reserves vs. Saints
It's finally time to pick up the debris and move on.
After the, ahem, disputable ending to the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 "loss" Monday night to the Seattle Seahawks, the time has finally come to put that behind us as best we can and look forward to this Sunday's game against the 0-3 New Orleans Saints.
Many expect the Packers to come out with a vengeance against the somewhat-surprisingly winless Saints. New Orleans currently has the worst defense in the league and the Packers are coming off one of the most heartbreaking defeats in NFL history.
So what can we expect from Aaron Rodgers and company on Sunday?
QB Aaron Rodgers
Let's start with the reigning NFL MVP.
Rodgers was under siege for the entire first half of the game against the Seahawks. It's incredible that the Packers were still in it and that Rodgers was still in one piece after suffering nine sacks.
To be fair, not all of them were due to pass protection. Rodgers could have gotten the ball out much sooner on a few plays and at least thrown the ball out of bounds. Coach Mike McCarthy also could have adjusted his protection scheme sooner instead of waiting until halftime.
Considering Rodgers' remarks to Jason Wilde on ESPN 540 this past Tuesday, he won't have any trouble finding motivation to put up a big game on Sunday.
If the Packers can protect their quarterback and McCarthy is able to adjust protection quickly if the situation so desires early in the game, then Rodgers could finally put up the numbers we have all been waiting for.
Stats prediction: 31/38, 350 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
RB Cedric Benson
The running game with Benson leading the charge actually performed pretty well against the Seahawks on Monday considering how strong Seattle's defensive line is.
Benson finished the game with 17 carries for 45 yards and one touchdown, averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Benson provided critical yardage as the Packers offense came to life in the second half. It was a much more balanced attack that had it not been for pass protection issues and Rodgers being off on some throws, the Packers would probably have won the game and not on the final play.
This week, Benson goes up against a Saints defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up an average of 215 yards rushing. If ever there was a game a Packers running back would finally cross the century mark in yards rushing, this is it.
Stats prediction: 18 carries, 105 yards rushing, 1 TD
WR Jordy Nelson
It's tough to do a breakdown of each Packers wide receiver given how Rodgers likes to spread the ball around to his talented group of receivers. Any one of them could have a big game against the Saints.
This very well could be the breakout game for Nelson who last season emerged as a threat to become Rodgers' number one wide receiver over Greg Jennings. The Saints give up a league-worst 477 yards per game.
Both the Saints defense and the Packers offense have yet to truly start clicking. If Nelson can get himself going, it would elevate the entire offense.
Nelson this year has only 13 catches for 167 yards through three games. With the entire offense in some kind of a funk, the sooner Rodgers can re-discover his chemistry with Nelson that helped the Packers put up a franchise record amount of points last season, the better.
Stats prediction: 7 catches, 125 yards and 1 TD.
TE Jermichael Finley
Finley was the Packers' leading receiver Monday night with four catches for 60 yards although 31 of those yards came on a single play.
It's been a strange season for the Packers tight end who saw his case of drops from last season carry over into 2012. Finley came up big against the Seahawks however when his big 31 yard catch provided the offense a much needed spark.
Against the Saints, Finley will get to witness a tight end many hoped Finley would (or still could) become in Saints TE Jimmy Graham. If Finley can get himself where he needs to be, he can really open things up for the rest of the offense.
Thanks to his height and speed, Finley is a nightmare to cover for opposing defenses but if he can't hang onto the ball, what's the point?
Stat prediction: 5 catches, 75 yards, 2 drops
LB Clay Matthews
Matthews started 2012 out on fire, recording six sacks in his first two games versus six he accumulated in all 16 regular season games a year ago.
Many expected Matthews to face some double teams against the Seahawks and they were correct. Matthews finished the game Monday night with three tackles and one QB hit.
Thankfully, rookie Nick Perry did what he was brought in to do and that was give the Packers another pass rushing threat as Perry recorded the Packers' lone sack of Russell Wilson.
The Packers next face one of the league's best offense led by one of the league's elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees. Don't let the slow starts for the Saints fool you. After this game, we will have a good idea if Matthews and the defense as a whole has returned to form or if the past two games have just been a mirage.
Stats prediction: 5 tackles, 1 sack
S/CB Charles Woodson and S Morgan Burnett
Burnett is about to get one of the biggest test of his young career. Thankfully he will have an All-Pro in Woodson opposite him in the Packers base 3-4 defense.
Woodson stepped up to the plate this week, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in telling players they had no one to blame for the loss to the Seahawks but themselves. As someone who is becoming well-known for giving a powerful locker room speech, Woodson's remarks in the locker room hopefully carried some real weight.
As for Burnett, he is turning out to be the hard hitting safety the Packers hoped he would be when they drafted him in 2010 and this past offseason released injured former All-Pro Nick Collins. Burnett's improved play has been a key factor in a secondary that not many thought would be playing this well this soon given the way 2011 unfolded.
Both the youngster and the veteran figure to have a big challenge in trying to shut down Brees' plethora of targets. If Woodson can still flash his playmaking ability and Burnett continues to grow, then Brees will have trouble getting many completions down the field.
Stats prediction: Woodson-6 tackles, 1 INT. Burnett-8 tackles
WR Donald Driver: It's tough to consider Driver really a reserve being pretty much the number five receiver on a team that has six total wide receivers on the roster, but he has shown that he still has the hands and the moves to be an effective NFL receiver.
Stat prediction: 3 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD
DE Jerel Worthy: He's listed on the Packers' official depth chart behind C.J. Wilson at right defensive end, but if he keeps up his current performance he should find himself a starter in no time. Worthy has been a force up front and has been a key cog in the Packers re-discovering their pass rush.
Stats prediction: 4 tackles
S Jerron McMillian: The hard hitting safety has been a revelation for the Packers' secondary, which got shredded far too often in 2011. He is going to get his shot at making plays and he helps the Packers offset the loss of Collins
Stats prediction: 5 tackles