The resurgent Saints roll into Lambeau Field to face the Packers
New Orleans heads to Green Bay fresh off a wild 52–38 win over Detroit. The Saints stormed out to a 31-10 lead over the Lions at halftime, but in the second half, things turned sloppy. The Saints committed their first three turnovers of the season, allowing Detroit to narrow their deficit to seven with less than seven minutes left. That near-collapse included giving up a punt return and an interception for touchdowns.
Green Bay will play this game, and most likely the rest of this season, without Aaron Rodgers, future Hall of Fame quarterback and a catalyst in the Packers presumed drive to the playoffs. Rodgers’ broken right clavicle could keep him out of action for the rest of the season.
The Packers lead the all-time series, 16-8. These two have faced each other more often in Milwaukee, where the Packers won six of the seven meetings, than in Green Bay. For games played in Green Bay, the Packers hold a 4-1 advantage. The Saints have won four of the seven contests against the Packers played in this century.
New Orleans at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Packers +5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Brett Hundley lead the Packers’ offense against improving Saints pass rush?
Although Hundley (above, right) has played in six NFL regular season games, he has never started a game in the league. He has attempted only 44 passes during in his three-year career, completing 21 for 174 yards and a touchdown along with four interceptions. He has also been sacked four times.
New Orleans’ defense has steadily increased the amount of pressure it has been applying on opposing quarterbacks. In their first two games, both defeats, the Saints failed to sack Sam Bradford and took down Tom Brady only twice. They doubled their number of sacks in the next two games against Cam Newton and Jay Cutler. They did even better last week, laying out Matthew Stafford five times.
This does not look like to be an ideal time for Green Bay to thrust its inexperienced backup quarterback into the fray against an aggressive defense.
2. Will Green Bay’s rushing compensate for Rodgers’ absence?
Green Bay has had one 100-yard rusher (125 yards by Aaron Jones at Dallas) in six games of this season. In no other game did anyone gain at least 60 rushing yards. The Packers rank 26th in the league in terms of average rushing yards per game (88.3). They are averaging exactly four yards per rushing attempt, tied for 19th in the NFL. On the bright side, they've fumbled only once on offense, which they recovered.
The Saints’ defense seems to be up to the task off curtailing the Packers’ rushing attack. New Orleans has allowed an average of 100.8 rushing yards per game. When the Saints have allowed 100 or more rushing yards, they are 1-2. When the Saints held an opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards, they are 2-0.
3. Second-half sloppiness or start of downward trend?
Before the second half of the game against the Lions, the Saints had not turned over the ball this season. During the latter thirty minutes of that game, they gave the ball away three times. Those kept what appeared to be a sure demolition of the Lions at halftime into a potential epic collapse in the fourth quarter.
The Saints set a franchise record on Sunday by scoring three defensive touchdowns in one game. Those did help negate their own turnovers and the Lions’ scores that resulted from those. However, they cannot expect to repeat such a once-in-a-four-decade performance. Therefore, they must resume the perfection in ball protection that they demonstrated in the first four games. Giving away the ball to an opposing offense led by an inexperienced quarterback will noticeably boost the Packers’ chances of sneaking out of Lambeau Field with a win.
Prior to Aaron Rodgers’ injury, this game looked like a formidable hurdle for the Saints. Now, it appears much more manageable for the steadily improving Black and Gold defense, although they do face a dilemma. Should they continue to ramp up their pressure on this inexperienced quarterback as they have done in their three victories? Should they key on stopping Green Bay’s running game to force Brett Hundley into long conversion attempts on third and fourth downs?
The Packers absolutely could benefit from a week without a game. They need to integrate Hundley further into their starting offensive unit. Unfortunately for them, their bye will not come until after this contest versus the Saints. Their underperforming running game does not appear to be able to step up and take pressure off Hundley.
Prediction: Saints 30, Packers 20
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.