Rob Ryan's defenses have always been opportunistic, and that's a blessing and a curse. While Ryan's multiple fronts and variety of blitzes can pay great dividends, they can also leave cornerbacks on islands they're not qualified to defend. That's been one of the issues in a season that saw the Saints get off to a 2-4 start: a defense that ranked dead last in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics coming into this game. Going against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night seemed like a recipe for disaster, especially given Rodgers' ridiculous month of efficiency. He'd completed 67.9 percent of his passes in October for 679 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers had thrown just one interception all season, and that came in the opener against Seattle.
All that said... well, this is the NFL, and it's no wonder everything played against type. The Saints' approach allowed them to limit Rodgers to some flashy numbers -- 28 of 39 for 418 yards -- but not nearly enough production in the end zone, as he finished with just one touchdown pass. Worse still were the two picks he threw, which gave the Packers little margin for error. Especially when the Saints have Drew Brees who, you may have heard, is a fairly decent quarterback himself. And it was Brees who blew up the opposing defense, while Rodgers saw his interception total move from one to three in just one half of football. Brees' stats weren't quite as shiny (27 of 32 for 311 yards) but he threw three touchdown passes and kept the ball on his own side.
Rodgers' second interception of the season was a strange one. With 7:46 left in the third quarter, he threw left to tight end Andrew Quarless, much-maligned Saints cornerback Corey White broke up the pass, and the ball bounced up right into the hands of linebacker David Hawthorne. The pick set a lot of Saints momentum in motion. On the next drive, Brees threw an absolutely gorgeous bomb to rookie Brandin Cooks, who blew past safety Micah Hyde and cornerback Tramon Williams for a 50-yard touchdown. This was why the Saints took Cooks in the first round, to match his deep speed with Kenny Stills' ability to tear up long gains in the slot. And on that play, New Orleans' offense looked as explosive as it had ever been.
Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, there was the pair of plays that sealed the deal for the Saints. Rodgers was sacked by end Cameron Jordan, and then, the second interception of the night. Rodgers threw off-balance to his right, receiver Davante Adams wasn't aligned to the throw because he stopped during the in route, and it was an easy way for White to assure Rodgers would double his season's interception total in one half of football.
It didn't help that Rodgers was obviously bothered with a hamstring issue. Since the Saints knew he had to throw to stay in the game, they could tee off. And they did. Without his usual mobility, Rodgers was limited to the pocket, couldn't take off when he usually would and found it difficult to drive the ball with his lower body when necessary. Rodgers did gimp along into the end zone late in the game while the Saints were busy playing 2-man coverage and turning their backs to him, but that was the proverbial too little, too late.
The game was actually tied at 16 at the half, but aside from Rodgers' limp-in touchdown, the Saints were the only team to score in the final 30 minutes. More good news for the Saints: Even with a 3-4 record, they are still in the hunt for the NFC South crown, because the Panthers lead that division with a 3-4-1 mark. The Packers, however, have fallen a full game behind the Lions, and must endeavor to hope their series with Detroit can be split in the regular-season finale Dec. 28.