Welcome to season two of Maggie’s Pre-Game Six Pack! Each Friday morning during the season, I’ll be giving you six things to keep an eye on going into that week’s Packers game. This can be anything from a key matchup or player to watch to an impressive stat or a player chasing history. Now let’s dive into Week 1 Packers vs Saints!
1. Cornering the Saints Defense
The Saints have no corners. Okay. Maybe that’s not entirely true. But the Saints, at least right now, only have three available corners for Sunday’s matchup. Marshon Lattimore is a three-time Pro Bowl player, but he’ll have his hands full shadowing Davante Adams (or at least, he should shadow Adams given the status of the rest of the CB room). He was also just added to the injury report on Thursday as a limited participant with a knee injury. Ken Crawley was projected to start opposite Lattimore, but he hasn’t practiced this week and remains questionable for Sunday with a hamstring injury. Behind them, there’s only rookie third-round pick Paulson Adebo and veteran holdover Desmond Trufant. Trufant did make a Pro Bowl in 2015, but he was with the Bears this offseason and didn’t make the initial 53-man roster, so what he’ll bring to the Saints remains a mystery. New Orleans also signed Bradley Roby to bolster the unit, but he’s suspended Week 1 and won’t be on the field against the Packers. Perhaps familiar face Ka’dar Hollman will get a call-up from the practice squad for Sunday’s outing. Regardless, it should be a big day for Green Bay’s receivers.
2. Unprecedented 17th Season for Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers will make franchise history on Sunday when he leads the Packers onto the field for his 17th NFL season. Despite Green Bay’s rich history, no player has ever been with the team for more than 16 seasons. Both Bart Starr and Brett Favre spent 16 seasons with the team, and kicker Mason Crosby ties linebacker Ray Nitschke this year at 15 seasons. Coming off his third MVP, nobody knows what the future holds for No. 12 beyond this season. Whether he’s back under center in 2022, retires, or leaves for a different team, he’ll have made history as the only player to be with the franchise 17 seasons, and that’s pretty damn cool.
3. You’re Going to be a Star!
We’ll get our first look at Joe Barry’s defense on Sunday. According to passing game coordinator Jerry Gray, Jaire Alexander, Chandon Sullivan, and Darnell Savage have all taken reps in the star role. That said, we won’t know who actually starts at the star position until Green Bay’s defense takes the field. My guess is it’s still Sullivan to start initially. The safety unit is a little depleted right now with only Henry Black available behind Savage and Adrian Amos. Vernon Scott has yet to practice this week. However, without Saints receiver Michael Thomas to worry about on the boundary, it’s possible Barry will put Alexander in the slot to help defend the middle of the field against the explosive Alvin Kamara. The Saints, of course, are marching in without Drew Brees under center, but Jameis Winston has a strong arm and can absolutely push the ball down the field. For every big play he can make with his arm, the Packers secondary also has to be ready to capitalize on one of his poor decisions.
4. Rookies on the O-Line
The offensive line will be without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari for at least the first six games of the season. In his absence, future All-Pro (it’s true) Elgton Jenkins will slide from left guard and fill in at tackle. With veteran Billy Turner locking down the right tackle spot, that left the interior of the line up for grabs. Second-round draft pick Josh Myers ran away with the starting center spot early, but he won’t be without growing pains on Sunday. What’s been most surprising this offseason is the emergence of fourth-round pick Royce Newman, who was a late entrant into the guard position battle and ended up winning the starting spot at right guard over Jon Runyan Jr. and Ben Braden. He even displaced last year’s right guard Lucas Patrick, who will start Sunday at left guard for the Packers. The interior of the Saints defensive line is one of the weakest positions on the defense, but ends Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan can absolutely wreck games rushing off the edge. It’ll be trial by fire on Sunday as Myers and Newman make their first NFL starts against a stout defense and attempt to keep Rodgers upright.
5. Oh, You Wanted Weapons?
The Packers had the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL in 2020, and they could be even better in 2021. In addition to having the league’s best wide receiver in Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling has also been vocal about having his best camp. Second-year running back AJ Dillon is ready to complement Aaron Jones in the backfield, and his draftmate Josiah Deguara (a LaFleur favorite) is finally healthy. That also doesn’t include the addition of fan favorite (and Rodgers favorite) Randall Cobb, or third-round draft pick Amari Rodgers as two potential slot options. Add in options like Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis, and we almost run into trouble figuring out how Rodgers can spread the ball around.
6. The Opposite of a Frozen Tundra
The early forecast for Sunday’s game at TIAA Bank Field is 86 degrees and sunny. That’s much different than playing in Caesars Superdome. LaFleur has talked all week about the need to keep his players hydrated, and that’ll be put to the test already Week 1. Even despite the Saints’ attempts to find a location that was tough for Packers fans to get to, it sounds like there will be plenty of green and gold in the stands on Sunday. If you’ll be at the game, make sure you get loud! And enjoy the NFL’s longest season now that we’ve got 17 regular season matchups to look forward to.
We’ve officially made it, Packers fans. The 2021 NFL Season is upon us. Go Pack Go!
Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack’s What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.