Saints Defense vs. Packers Offense Preview
The New Orleans Saints return home this Sunday, hosting the Green Bay Packers in a Week 3 matchup on Sunday Night Football. New Orleans comes into the game with a 1-1 record after their defense was taken apart by the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. The Saints rank 8th in total defense after two weeks but have allowed opponents to convert 50% of their 3rd down chances. The Raiders pushed around the Saints for the final three quarters on Monday in a listless performance.
New Orleans takes on a 2-0 Packers team whose offense has been firing on all cylinders through the first two games. Green Bay has more total yards than any other team so far this season and has scored 42 points in both outings, best in the league. The Packers have yet to turn the ball over, and after finishing 15th in total offense last year, appear to have a better grasp of second-year coach Matt LaFleur's offensive system.
Both teams are coming off 13-3 seasons in 2019 and once again favorites in their respective divisions. We will focus on how the New Orleans defense matches up against the Green Bay offense in this potential early-season playoff preview.
AGAINST THE PASS
The New Orleans secondary struggled against Las Vegas receivers after shutting down Tampa Bay's tandem of Pro Bowl wideouts in the opening week. Raiders wideouts made plays downfield in crucial moments, and the Saints never found an answer for Vegas TE Darren Waller, who caught 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
In particular, safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Williams, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had poor outings, especially Jenkins. New Orleans cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins weren't nearly as sharp as they were against the Buccaneers, both are still capable of shutting down the league's top receivers, which they will face in Green Bay's Davante Adams.
The Saints sacked Raiders QB Derek Carr three times on Monday night, equalling their Week One total against Tampa Bay. Unlike against the Buccaneers, New Orleans could not pressure Carr consistently throughout the game after those three 1st quarter sacks. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson leads the team with two takedowns and has played well in place of the injured Marcus Davenport, who has missed both opening games with an elbow injury.
Fellow DE Cameron Jordan has been uncharacteristically quiet through the first two games. Jordan has just one pressure and no sacks so far and was shockingly controlled by a third-string OT against Las Vegas. New Orleans has gotten good interior disruption from a talented DT rotation of Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Malcom Brown, and undrafted rookie Malcolm Roach. Linebackers Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone both continue to be effective blitzers, and are among the league's better LBs in coverage.
Offseason reports of the demise of QB Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers were greatly exaggerated. After his inconsistent year in 2019, the team traded-up to draft Utah State's quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In two games this season, the 36-Yr old Rodgers has completed 67% of his throws for 604 yards and six touchdowns. Rodgers can still make downfield throws with deadly precision, leaving defenses frustrated and helpless to stop him. He has been sacked only once so far and rarely pressured, allowing his receivers extra time to break open for big plays.
Rodgers’ primary target is three-time Pro Bowl WR Davante Adams, one of the NFL's most respected wideouts. Adams has caught 17 of his 20 targets for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns but is questionable for this game because of a hamstring injury suffered last week. Big-bodied wideouts Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who have a combined 14 catches for 268 yards and 2 scores, have provided good receiving depth and are dangerous runners after the catch. The Green Bay tight ends haven't yet been heavily involved as receivers, catching just four balls for 41 yards as a group, but are especially dangerous near the goal line.
AGAINST THE RUN
The Saints continue to have one of the NFL's best rush defenses statistically but gave up some back-breaking runs against Josh Jacobs of the Raiders late in last week's loss. New Orleans has gone 45 consecutive games without allowing a 100-Yd rusher, however, and is allowing just 3.3 yards per rush this season.
That dominance starts upfront with the defensive line, particularly the team's defensive tackles, which create a stalemate at the line of scrimmage and get penetration into opposing backfields and are athletic enough to cut down a runner outside. All-Pro LB Demario Davis is one of the NFL's best run defenders and is consistently among the league's top tacklers and an elite sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
The Packers have gained 417 rushing yards in two games, most in the league, and their 6.2 yards per attempt is the best mark in the NFL so far. Their ground game is paced by fourth-year RB Aaron Jones, who has 234 yards and three scores and is averaging nearly seven yards/carry. Jones, who had 168 yards rushing against Detroit last week, had 1,084 yards rushing in 2019 and led the NFL with 16 touchdowns. Jones runs with excellent power between the tackles and has good open-field speed. He is also an important part of the Green Bay passing attack, hauling in 49 receptions last season.
Aaron Jones was the next-to-last running back to go over 100 yards against the New Orleans defense, picking up 131 on the ground in a 26-17 Saints victory on October 22, 2017. Aaron Rodgers was injured and didn't play in that game, but New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen knows that the only way to have a chance to beat the Packers is to hit Rodgers often throughout the game. New Orleans must get off the field on 3rd downs, after allowing Raiders QB Derek Carr to complete 9 of 10 passes for 98 yards and two scores on 3rd or 4th downs.
The Saints secondary must have the type of outing they had on opening day against the Buccaneers receivers. Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins versus Davante Adams will be a marquee matchup, but the Saints have to dominate play upfront to keep their secondary from prolonged coverage responsibilities. Cam Jordan has had a quiet start to the year but is one of the league's best pass rushers. The only shot for New Orleans to slow a rolling Green Bay offense is to continue to control the run and get fast pressure on Rodgers to give their back end a chance to make plays.