Saints vs. Packers: Finally Healthy, Green Bay Ready for Thursday Night Opener

Michael DulkaContributor ISeptember 7, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Tight end Jermichael Finley #88 of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the field against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)
Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers will host the New Orleans Saints as they kickoff the NFL's Back to Football weekend on Thursday. For the first time in almost a year, the Packers will be heading into a game at nearly 100 percent full strength. 

DL Lawrence Guy and WR Shaky Smithson were placed on Injured Reserve following injuries suffered during training camp. It seemed very unlikely Smithson would have made the roster if healthy. Guy had a better chance initially, but an early concussion gave the player an uphill climb.

The Packers were fortunate this preseason and avoided any major injuries to crucial players. The most serious injuries of training camp to crucial players were to Frank Zombo, Mike Neal and Randall Cobb.

Zombo fractured his scapula in a collision with a teammate during warm-ups against the Arizona Cardinals in the second week of the preseason. He is hoping to be back for the Week 3 showdown with the Chicago Bears

Neal suffered a knee injury in practice following the team's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns. Hurt on a non-contact drill, Neal was diagnosed with a knee sprain. He returned to practice this week, but according to McCarthy is a game-time decision for Thursday night.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 19: Roscoe Parrish #11 of the Buffalo Bills is hit by Morgan Burnett #42 of the Green Bay Packers after catching a pass at Lambeau Field on September 19, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bills 34-7.  (Photo
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Cobb has battled through bruises on both knees and missed significant time during training camp. He returned to practice this week as well and is likely to play against the Saints.

Besides Zombo, the only Packer that is confirmed as out for the game is rookie Vic So'oto. A weight room back injury will prevent the undrafted free agent from getting a chance to be in the active 45 against the Saints.   

The relative health of the team is quite a welcomed change for the Packers, who were bitten harshly by the injury bug last season. The team was forced to adjust to players coming in and out of the lineup on a weekly basis. 

There have been plenty of injuries to go around the league, but the Packers have been fortunate enough to escape any serious ones.

In the preseason finale against the Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs lost their starting tight end, Tony Moeaki, to a season-ending injury and may have lost starting quarterback Matt Cassel to a rib injury.

The New York Giants have seen a surprisingly high number of players go down with season-ending injuries before even playing a meaningful game.

Against the New Orleans Saints, the Packers could have every starter on the team in uniform and ready to go if Neal is up for the task. This luxury has not been had by the Packers since the start of last season against the Philadelphia Eagles.

SEATTLE - AUGUST 21:  Running back Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers looks on during warmups prior to the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on August 21, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the team in very good health, the Packers turn their attention to the New Orleans Saints. With almost every starter expected to be in the lineup, the Packers coaching staff has not been forced to make last-minute adjustments.

The Packers team that is seen against the Saints will have a different look than what we saw in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, both offensively and defensively. 

On offense, the Packers run game should be much improved, with Ryan Grant healthy and James Starks coming off a mostly healthy training camp. The Saints are susceptible to a solid rushing attack and could face trouble if the Packers go to their two backs frequently. 

With the re-addition of Jermichael Finley, Aaron Rodgers will have another weapon to choose from down the field. Finley's size and speed allow him to get down the middle in order to stretch the field. This should open up the rest of the field for Rodgers to pick apart the Saints secondary.

On the defensive side of the play, Morgan Burnett is back at safety with Nick Collins to strengthen the Packers secondary. Before his injury, Burnett was having a successful rookie campaign. He provides more of a big-play threat than Charlie Peprah. Burnett will need to be in form against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense.

Neal is also a new face for the Packers defense and will look to fill the void left by Cullen Jenkins. Neal is expected to have a breakout season if he can stay healthy for all 16 games. If he is able to play against the Saints, Neal will take pressure off the rest of the front seven and add to the Packers pass rush.

After last season's injury frenzy, the Packers are finally heading into a game as close to full strength as any football team can hope for.