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Grading the Packers vs. Saints

As you'd imagine after one of the biggest opening-day blowouts in Packers history, the grades were harsh following a woeful performance vs. the Saints.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers were smashed 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The 35-point margin was the third-worst opener in franchise history and the worst in more than a half-century, dating to a 40-0 loss to Detroit to start the 1970 season.

“It’s very humbling, to say the least,” coach Matt LaFleur said.

Looking at the team by unit, here’s our first report card of the season.

Passing offense: Aaron Rodgers’ 36.8 passer rating was the fourth-worst of his career in 191 regular-season games as a starter. One of those was in 2010 at Detroit, when he was knocked out with a concussion. Rodgers says he doesn’t need a preseason, and it’s hard to blame coach Matt LaFleur for not wanting to put the MVP behind a revamped offensive line for meaningless games. Imagine the season crumbling in Week 1 of the preseason because Jon Runyan gave up a sack. Nonetheless, Rodgers lacked his usual poise under pressure. True pressure really is only felt during games. So, maybe what happened on Sunday will be just the ticket.

Just 2-of-6 on passes 10-plus yards downfield, Rodgers wasn’t great but it’s not as if he got a lot of help from his friends. Davante Adams (two on one play) and AJ Dillon (one) forced the only missed tackles. Robert Tonyan, of all people, dropped a pass. After a tremendous training camp, Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught 3-of-8 passes for 17 yards. Green Bay averaged 4.45 yards after the catch; last year, Rodgers got a second-ranked 6.04 YAC. The pass protection was actually fine. The only sack of Rodgers came on a bootleg that didn’t fool Marcus Davenport. However, guards Royce Newman and Lucas Patrick were beaten on the pivotal red-zone interception.

Grade: F.

Rushing offense: It’s tempting to give the Packers an “incomplete” grade. What is there to judge on four carries in the first half and 15 for the game?

Dillon had back-to-back runs of 6 yards on the second drive of the game. He finished with 19 carries on four tries, with 11 of those yards coming after contact. He was worthy of more attempts. Aaron Jones finished with five carries for 9 yards, with a long run of 3. None of the 15 carries produced a broken tackle. Did the line block well enough? Other than left tackle Elgton Jenkins, no, but sometimes it’s up to the runners to turn nothing into something.

Grade: D-minus.

Passing defense: Saints quarterback Jameis Winston threw 20 passes. Five were touchdowns and only six hit the turf. It’s not as if Winston was throwing to a star-studded receiver corps. With Michael Thomas on PUP, his primary receivers all entered the league as undrafted free agents.

The Packers had zero sacks, three quarterback hits (two by Rashan Gary, one by Preston Smith) and one pass defensed (Eric Stokes). Winston torched some early pressure with scrambles of 11 yards on the first possession and 10 yards on the second. The pressure was rare, though. On the second drive, Winston had so much time that at one point he just stood there, as if he was checking his Twitter mentions, before throwing it away.

On the bright side, the Saints had only two passing plays of greater than 15 yards. Both were by speedster 5-foot-6 Deonte Harris against Kevin King – a 17-yarder on the first touchdown drive and a 55-yard touchdown that put the Packers out of their misery. Jaire Alexander shut out the Saints’ best receiver, Marquez Callaway, in their matchups.

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Grade: D-minus.

Rushing defense: There’s a mixed bag in this phase. Saints star Alvin Kamara was limited to 83 yards on 20 attempts. That’s a good day’s work, and especially so in the second half. The tackling was generally pretty good (Kenny Clark and De’Vondre had the only misses). Campbell and Preston Smith had strong performances.

However, on the third drive of the game that made the score 17-0, Tony Jones had three consecutive runs for 5, 9 and 4 yards and Kamara had runs for 10 yards around Za’Darius Smith and 14 yards in which he avoided Clark in the backfield. Of the 134 rushing yards that didn’t come on Winston’s scrambles, 57 yards came on this drive. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery likes to talk about his guys delivering “knockback” to the blockers. Too often, though, it was his guys who were getting knocked back. Kingsley Keke, in particular, had a bad day.

By our unofficial count, Kamara and Jones combined for 83 rushing yards after contact – an average of 2.68 yards per attempt. They got what was there and then some, like good backs should do.

Grade: C-minus.

Special teams: At least there weren’t any disasters. It wasn’t a great debut by new punter Corey Bojorquez – his best of the day from a numbers perspective was a mis-hit with good roll – but only one of his four punts were returned. Rookie Amari Rodgers had a 17-yard punt return. The best the Packers had all of last season went for 11 yards. Fellow rookie Kylin Hill had returns of just 17 and 12 yards on kickoffs. Mason Crosby made his only field-goal attempt and booted his only kickoff for a touchback.

Grade: C.

Coaching: As Rodgers said after the game, the key to beating the Saints’ two-shell defense was to run the football. The Packers not only didn’t run the football, they didn’t try. The four first-half carries is at least partially understandable; the Packers had 12 plays in their first two possessions of the first half and a 2-minute drill to end the half. But at halftime, the score was 17-3 – hardly insurmountable. For the first drive of the third quarter, 10 of the 12 snaps were passes.

Typical of LaFleur, he took the blame for the team not being ready. But it’s Week 1 of the season. Does the coach really need to deliver a Knute Rockne speech for a big season-opening showdown against another high-quality team?

For all the talk of the “energy” new coordinator Joe Barry brings to the defense, the unit didn’t play with much of it. Other than the long touchdown that capped the scoring, the Saints methodically drove the ball down the field and the defense had no answers.

“Got to give the Saints all the credit in the world. They came ready to play,” LaFleur said. “Absolutely embarrassed us today. You can’t do that against a well-coached and quality football team. Our guys are going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It starts with myself. I obviously didn’t get these guys ready to play ball, and that’s what happens when you go out there and play like that against a good football team. So, give the Saints all the credit. They came ready to play, had a great plan and executed it.”

LaFleur had better find answers this week. Everyone knows this is an all-or-nothing season. An 0-2 season could trigger Armageddon.

Grade: F.