The Green Bay Packers will host the New Orleans Saints this evening to kickoff the 2011 NFL season. After a lockout put the season in doubt, it is finally here with a matchup of two of the league's elite quarterbacks. The previous two Super Bowl winners will do battle at Lambeau Field.
Aaron Rodgers will lead his Packers onto the field as the defending Super Bowl champions. Drew Brees will be leading a Saints team poised to get back to the top after a pitiful playoff performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
Donald Driver starts the season needing 42 receiving yards to become the Packers all-time leader in receiving yards. With a strong performance against the Saints, Driver will break the record set by James Lofton in 1986.
Here are some interesting things to watch for as you enjoy the game.
As previously mentioned, Driver needs just 42 yards to break the prestigious Packers record. A fan favorite, Driver's journey to this point has been anything but easy. The struggle allowed Driver to become the man and player he is.
Driver should break the record against the Saints as the Packers are expected to sling the ball around quite a bit. Starting the game opposite Greg Jennings, Driver will have plenty of opportunities against a strong secondary.
The Saints were ranked fourth last season in pass defense, but struggled mightily against the run. If the Packers can establish a running game, things should open up down the field for the Packers.
For more information on Donald Driver's pursuit of the record, click here.
Even for the start of the season, injuries will impact how the opener shakes out. Each team will be missing a couple of players due to injuries suffered leading up to the game either in preseason or the practice week.
The Saints will be without wide receiver Lance Moore, who is suffering from a groin injury, and kicker Garrett Hartley, who is suffering from a hip injury. The two players have been officially ruled out on the team's Wednesday injury report. Hartley will be replaced by long-time vet John Kasay. Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem will step in for Moore.
For the Packers, entering the game relatively healthy is a nice change. Mike Neal is the only clear-cut starter that could be absent. Neal will be a game-time decision, but shouldn't be counted on. Frank Zombo is out with a broken scapula, Vic So'oto is out with a back injury, and Davon House will out with an ankle injury.
In a strange change from last year, the Packers will enter this game as the healthier team. Missing Moore and Hartley will have a bigger effect on the game than any of the Packers' injuries. The Saints passing attack becomes more humanized as Brees loses a key target.
To put it nicely, the Saints were terrible against the run last year. In fact, they were 31st in rushing yards allowed giving up 147.2 yards per contest. In order to get back to Super Bowl form, the Saints must clean up and improve their run defense.
In a game with two of the premier passing attacks in the league, this game could come down to whoever runs the ball better. The Packers should have the advantage with a healthy duo of Ryan Grant and James Starks.The Saints rookie Mark Ingram should greatly improve the Saints rushing game.
If Mike McCarthy sticks with the run against such a suspect run defense, the Packers offense could be near unstoppable against the Saints. The Packers offensive line should push around and create plenty of holes up front allowing the Packers backs to gash the defense.
A strong rushing attack will provide Rodgers with manageable downs and distances. Given this advantage, the Packers offense could be in for a big day against the Saints.
Besides the Super Bowl, the NFL's season opener has the most fanfare and hoopla of any NFL game. The pregame activities include a free concert, national attention and of course a national audience. In a game that is so hyped up, whichever team is able to settle first could come up huge.
In the NFL, many season openers start slow as teams attempt to put together different puzzle pieces and build a rhythm. With all the buildup and hype, it would be shocking not to see a slower than normal start to this game.
Whichever team handles the emotion of the season opener better could leap out to an early lead and have the upper hand the rest of the game. When all the dust settles, the ball will be kicked off and the spectacle will become just a normal football game. It is crucial for the Packers to start the game off well and get Rodgers into an early rhythm.
During the lockout, the Packers and Saints took completely different approaches towards working out and staying in football shape. On one hand, the Saints players organized team workouts while on the other, the Packers choose not to workout as a team, but rather as individuals.
Rodgers and the Packers were criticized for their approach regarding the workouts. They decided against team workouts as they believed the risk of injury (which would not be covered by the NFL) was too high. Players were responsible individually to workout and maintain their playing shape.
Drew Brees got together over 40 teammates and paid for workouts at Tulane University for six weeks during the offseason.
"I feel like the more organized you can be as a team and the more that you can communicate during this time ... I think the better off we'll be once the season does come around," Brees told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
It will be seen come game time whether or not this approach will benefit the Saints. The Saints fortunately avoided any serious injuries during these workouts so the workouts as least didn't have a negative effect. Training camp should have provided the Packers with enough time to prepare for the regular season.