The NFL pre-season is going into it’s final week, and the 2011 NFL season is a week away from kicking off. The first game of the season, on September 8, features the last 2 super bowl champions – that would be the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field. Let’s preview this game:
Keys to the game:
- For the Saints, it’s taking care of the ball. In games New Orleans won or tied the turnover battle last year, they went 9-1. In games they lost the turnover battle, they went 1-5. Drew Brees and the Saints offense had somewhat of a fluky year in terms of turnovers, so we should see New Orleans taking care of the ball better this season. Green Bay’s defense ranked 7th in forcing turnovers, so it will be a tough task for New Orleans to tie or win the turnover battle
- Drew Brees vs. the #1 ranked pass defense. The Packers have a dominant pass defense. It starts with a great pass rush that generated 47 sacks a year ago. They also have 2 great corners and an elite safety. The Packers run defense can be exploited, but the Saints don’t have the running game to do it. The Saints added Mark Ingram, but don’t expect them to be even above average running the football (at least in this game). The Saints only allowed 26 sacks last year, but Brees should be pressured often by the Green Bay defense in this game. Overall, we have an elite passing offense going up against an elite passing defense – but the edge goes to Green Bay because their aerial stop unit ranked #1.
- The Saints below average pass rush vs. the Packers below average pass protecting unit. If the Saints want to win this game, they must pressure Aaron Rodgers early and often. When the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, they got enormous amounts of pressure on 3 future hall of fame QBs en route to their first Lombardi. Aaron Rodgers will tear up this pretty weak secondary if given the right amount of time. The advantage goes to Rodgers and the Green Bay offensive line here, because as the season went on, the Packers pass protection got much better and became no longer a weakness.
What to Expect:
Neither team will develop a strong running attack in this game. Ryan Grant will be coming back from injury, and he and James Starks will have to deal with a strong rush defense in the Saints that ranked #9 last year and will only improve with the addition of Aubrayo Franklin. As for the Saints, their rushing game ranked 25th last year and they will go up against the #16 ranked rush defense. Even with the addition of Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles, the Saints will have trouble running the football. Overall, the edge in the running game goes to the Saints, but this game will be won through the air.
Aaron Rodgers typically never struggles – but when he does – it’s usually against a vaunted pass rush. The Saints do not own one of these. The only weakness in the Green Bay passing attack is their offensive line, which can be had by good pass rushing teams. I just don’t see New Orleans being able to exploit that weakness because they themselves are weak in rushing the passer. No team has the cornerbacks to match up with the Green Bay wide receivers and tight ends, especially with Aaron Rodgers spraying the ball around and putting it square in the hands of his targets. I see Green Bay having lots of success passing the football in this game.
On the other hand, Drew Brees will go up against a dominating pass defense. An elite pass protection unit will go up against an elite pass rushing unit – so something’s got to give in that area. Overall, I don’t see Brees taking more than 1 or 2 sacks in this game, but the GB pass rush will definitely be something to watch. Much of the reason the Saints actually have an elite pass protection unit is Drew Brees, who has great pocket presence and rarely takes sacks. Brees will deal with more pressure than he would like, which will force him to throw hot and this is where mistakes are made. Expect 1 interception from the man who tossed 22 last year, even though that is a number he won’t come close to in 2011. Still though, Brees will have success throwing because he is an elite quarterback and that’s what elite quarterbacks do. He’ll keep this game close and entertaining. But in a game where the running games should be neutralized, the Saints passing attack is likely going to have to be better than the Packers passing attack – and this just doesn’t seem likely when you look at the matchups (both teams have elite passing games, but the Saints have an “above average” pass defense while the Packers have the best in the game).
Let’s not totally underrate the Saints pass defense that ranked 9th in the league last year. Aaron Rodgers is not going to march up and down the field in this game. However, it is likely that he has more success through the air than Drew Brees does – and, let’s face it – the running games are not going to play a big factor in this game. The way for the Saints to win is to force big plays defensively and win the turnover battle. Turnover margin was the key reason for the Saints success in 2009 – where they had a similar defense to the one they had in 2010 – but they were much better at forcing turnovers. The problem is, turnovers tend to fluctuate from year to year so that kind of turnover margin was not likely to repeat for the Saints in 2010. I don’t see the Saints winning the turnover battle either though – they may tie it which bodes well for them – but the Packers are the more talented team and the matchup favors Green Bay. This game will end up lower scoring than you’d think, in my opinion, with the Packers pulling out the W at home.
Packers 31, Saints 24