On the cusp of a brand new season, Packer fans are clamoring for their first glimpse of what this year’s squad may bring (for one, another Lombardi trophy). The march to the Superbowl for the Packers begins with a week one matchup against another perennial NFC contender in the New Orleans saints.
The big news this past week has been hurricane Ida pummeling the shores of Louisiana leaving a wake of devastation. Obviously, the pleasant distraction of professional sports takes a back seat to the healing and rebuilding that will need to go on in New Orleans and greater Louisiana.
In observance of the resources needed to put on an NFL football game, the Saints announced yesterday that the contest will be held at the Jaguars stadium in Jacksonville.
In the previous decade, the matchup between the Saints and Packers quarterbacks would be a primetime affair. Two high powered offenses led by two future hall of fame QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
My, my, what a difference a year makes. Brees has retired (perhaps a year later than he should have) and the Saints will now trot out a combination of a tarnished former number one overall draft pick in Jameis Winston, and do-it-all gadget man Taysom Hill.
Winston was victorious in a training camp competition with Hill, but time will tell how long the leash of the turnover prone Winston truly is. At minimum the former Packer Hill will get his share of snaps lining up under center, split out wide and as a tailback.
Winston has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his seven year career, but has largely underwhelmed. Saints coach Sean Payton’s mettle will be tested this season as he no longer has a star quarterback to rely on.
The expectation is, like always, that Aaron Rodgers will carve up the opposing defense and put his team in a position to win.
The Packers will have a big advantage in the quarterback matchup, but will it be enough?
Much like the Packers, the Saints have invested early and often in their offense over the years. The offensive skill group starts with running back Alvin Kamara, who gave the Packers fits in week three racking up nearly 200 yards of total offense and two scores with his blend of maneuverability and straight line speed.
Kamara will definitely get his, but as evidenced by his performance last season a standout performance will not necessarily equate to victory for the Saints.
The Saints have a stout front seven on defense, so it may be tough sledding for Aaron jones. Expect Matt Lafleur to try to get Jones involved with the screen game or some plays designed to get the dynamic running back some space to move.
All eyes will be on newly minted number two back AJ Dillon. Dillon had a banner game last December against the Titans in a spot start in relief of Aaron Jones, and is expected to see a major uptick in usage this year with the departure of Jamaal Williams.
The Packers and Saints 2020 matchup saw both teams missing their top pass catchers in Davante Adams and Michael Thomas respectively.
Adams is healthy for this year’s matchup, but will see coverage (at least partially) from Saints three-time pro bowl corner Marshon Lattimore. The Rodgers to Adams connection is nearly undefeated, so while Adams won’t have an easy day he’ll undoubtedly have his share of wins off the line of scrimmage.
Unfortunately for the Saints, they’ll be without their all-pro wideout in Thomas for the second year in a row against the Packers. Thomas was placed on the physically unable to perform list earlier this week after oddly electing to undergo ankle surgery at the beginning of training camp.
An uninspiring duo of Tre’quan Smith and Marquez Callaway will occupy the top two spots on the depth chart at wide receiver in Thomas’ absence, leaving the Saints to lean on their star running back and up-and-down quarterback.
The Packers defensive strategy may be as simple as stop Alvin Kamara from setting any NFL single game records and walk away with a victory.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense should stake the Packers defense to a lead, or at least keep them in the game. The defense needs to shed its reputation for making inferior teams and players look like world beaters. This is a Saints offense that will not be very good to start the season, or at all potentially.
Jameis Winston has been uneven throughout his career and has been especially turnover prone. The Packers may be without top pass rusher Za’darius Smith for week one and the Saints feature one of the top offensive line units in the NFL so temper expectations for sack numbers and pressures.
However, Winston’s judgment has been so comically bad over the years that the Packers may not even need a productive pass rush to force a turnover or two.
Alvin Kamara and to a lesser extent Taysom Hill need to have the attention of the Packers D. Kamara will not be bottled up, but they cannot let him extend plays and drives with poor tackling.
The defense cannot be caught flat footed when Hill enters the game. Too often those of us sitting at home and the rest of the world know what’s coming and the Packers defense is still caught off guard.
Sean Payton is crafty and will definitely utilize Hill for a shot play or two, as a passer or receiver.
The Saints defense is good. The secondary is strong and covers well, and the front seven moves to the ball with an urgency seen by the best of defensive units.
Edge rushers Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan get to the quarterback with regularity.
The Packers new look offensive line will be tested. Rookie center Josh Meyers will have his hands full with Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. Onyemata was a load last year totaling 6.5 sacks and an interception in his first season of starting duty.
Elgton Jenkins is already a pro bowler at one offensive line position, but how quickly will he adjust to being on an island protecting Aaron Rodgers blindside full time? The safe money is to bet, and bet big on Jenkins, but we won’t know until Davenport or Cam Jordan come screaming around the edge.
The Packers can expect Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to dial up some blitzes to try and find a weak link in the offensive line and keep Rodgers off balance.
This is a game the Packers should win. The Packers defense is a perpetual work in progress, but even with an offensive weapon like Alvin Kamara the Saints shouldn’t be able to put up loads of points. If the Packers are opportunistic on defense, take care of the football on offense and don’t allow any embarrassing special teams gaffes they will leave Jacksonville 1-0.
Packers win 31-20
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.