On Mondays here at Cheesehead TV, I’ll be doing my Behind the Numbers series throughout the course of the season, while on Fridays, I’ll be putting out my final thoughts before each game.
These Final Thoughts articles will mirror the few that I did over the course of the season, where it is essentially a brain dump and me sharing just about every thought that I have about the upcoming matchup.
I enjoy putting these types of articles together as I can bounce from one topic to the next, and I appreciate all of the positive feedback. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and look at Green Bay vs. New Orleans.
– It’s quite amazing how little concern there seems to be about the Packers being without David Bakhtiari. It’s quite the testament to just how good Elgton Jenkins is. But keep in mind, he has only 29 career snaps at left tackle, and Green Bay will be up against a very good edge rusher group, led by Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport.
– Sticking with the offensive line, it’s going to be a tough test for rookies Josh Myers and Royce Newman. This Saints defensive front — which is without a few of the interior players that they had a season ago — allowed the third-fewest rushing yards, and they came away with the fourth-most sacks. As Matt LaFleur said, there will be “growing pains”–and he’s right. But Aaron Rodgers was also right when he said these two rookies will need to play like veterans.
– Sunday could be a very big day for Rodgers and the Packers’ wide receivers — especially Davante Adams — as this New Orleans cornerback group is dangerously thin. At the moment, they only have four CBs listed on the depth chart, with Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley — their top-2 corners — on the injury report. The other two candidates for snaps are rookie Paulson Adebo and Desmond Trufant, who was recently cut by Chicago. Safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and PJ Williams can play corner if needed, and of course, there are several players on the practice squad, but this Packers offense could very well spend the afternoon picking these cornerbacks apart.
– With Jaire Alexander locking down his half of the field, I’m sure we can expect a lot of targets going Kevin King’s way. This was also the case in 2020, and King came away with zero interceptions.
– At the end of the game, there are a few specific snap counts that I’ll be taking a close look at:
1. How much playing time Eric Stokes sees.
2. How many snaps and carries do both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon have?
3. Rashan Gary and Preston Smith’s snap count breakdown.
– I alluded to it above, but the name of the game is keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and giving him time. The Packers’ offensive line will have a difficult task this week against the New Orleans defensive front, but if they can keep Rodgers clean, he should have a big day against those cornerbacks.
– It’s also going to be important that the running game get going as well behind that offensive line. As good as this offense is, we’ve seen how that unit can struggle when the run game struggles–exhibit A was the Packers’ Week 6 matchup with Tampa Bay last season. And for reference, Green Bay rushed for only 98 total yards against the Saints in 2020, but we will see if the interior defensive line can hold up as well as they did in 2020.
– Za’Darius Smith has been back at practice this week — which is a good sign — but in a limited capacity. Do we see him on the field this Sunday?
– Turnovers are likely always going to be a part of Jameis Winston’s career, but do we see a toned-down version of that with the Saints? He’s had a year to learn from Drew Brees, and with Sean Payton as his head coach, Winston will likely be put in better positions to succeed. With that said, if Green Bay can put consistent pressure on him, it should lead to a turnover opportunity or two.
– I’ve talked about it quite a bit this summer, but I’m excited to see if Kenny Clark is moving around more. Moving him away from the nose tackle role should create more one-on-one opportunities, which should lead to more big plays from him.
– This Joe Barry defense and the Packers’ tackling abilities are going to be tested right away against Alvin Kamara. Last season, Kamara had 195 total yards and a pair of touchdowns against Green Bay. Tackling is going to be at a premium this game if the Packers hope to contain him. And if it isn’t, then Kamara absolutely has the potential to wreck this game.
– On the flip side, if the Packers can slow him — I don’t think you can stop Kamara — it should make moving the ball very difficult for the Saints’ offense as they will also be without star wide receiver Michael Thomas.
– There are two key items worth noting with the game being moved and played at Jacksonville. The first is the heat and how well the Packers handle it. The second is the fact that Green Bay doesn’t have to play in the dome with what is a very real home-field advantage that the Saints have. Ultimately, I believe the change in venues benefits the Packers more.
– What do we see from the Joe Barry defense? We all have an idea with the light boxes, five-man fronts, and two high safety looks, but what wrinkles are added? And most importantly, how do they perform? The odds are that early on this season they are going to take some lumps–it is a new system, after all.
– DBs coach Jerry Gray told us that Darnell Savage, Jaire Alexander, and Chandon Sullivan were the three candidates to fill the ‘star’ role. My prediction all summer has been that both Savage and Alexander will see more snaps there this season, but it will be Sullivan who takes the bulk of those slot snaps. Let’s see how it plays out Week 1.
– Hopefully, we don’t have to see Corey Bojorquez too often, but let’s see what that leg and hang time are all about. Bojorquez led the NFL in punting average last season, while special teams coach Maurice Drayton noted how impressive his hang time was. Drayton would also mention that Bojorquez being a lefty could cause some issues for the returners.
– And overall, how does the special teams unit perform? I know they struggled during the preseason, but as I said a week ago, try not to read too much into that as many of Green Bay’s special teams contributors were sitting out. Let’s hope they prove me right, but if you’re not feeling very optimistic, I understand.
– Key stats to know during the game: turnovers, red zone success, and third-down efficiency.
– As good as this offense was in 2020, leading the NFL in scoring, Aaron Rodgers recently told Larry McCarren that Year 3 is where things can really begin to click in an offense–and that should terrify opposing defenses. Watch out for 12 again this season.
“Third year in the offense really helps too,” Rodgers told Larry McCarren. “I remember my third year in the West Coast offense was when it really felt like I took off. I think you’ve seen a nice progression from Year 1 to 2 and now 2 to 3, things are completely sunk in, and I feel really at ease with the offense and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
– The Packers Week 3 matchup with New Orleans in 2020 was the game that Allen Lazard got hurt and missed the next several weeks. However, it was also the game that he went nuts, catching six of his eight targets for 146 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay was also without Davante Adams that week as well.
– During his meeting with reporters on Thursday, Nathaniel Hackett mentioned that the Saints blitzed Rodgers last season more than they did any other quarterback. This is something to keep our eyes on, especially with two rookies starting along the interior.
– Expectations are that this Barry defense should free up the linebackers more to make plays with those five-man defensive fronts. I’m excited to see if that’s the case. I think the duo of Barnes and Campbell can give the Packers a more impactful linebacker unit than what they’ve had in the past.
– Prediction: Alvin Kamara will probably have a big play or two, and the rookies on the offensive line will experience some growing pains, but the Packers are the more talented team. It also doesn’t hurt that this isn’t a true home game for the Saints. I expect a big day for Rodgers and his receivers, and we will probably see a Winston interception or two as well. Packers win, 34-24.
Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl.