Packers vs. Saints: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

Five things to watch and a prediction for the Packers' Week 8 matchup with the Saints. 

The Green Bay Packers (5-2) will put their four-game winning streak on the line during a nationally televised matchup with the New Orleans Saints (2-4) Sunday night from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. 

Here's five things to watch and a prediction:

 

1. Fast Start Needed 

The Saints have won 14 straight prime-time home games, in part because few teams feed off early energy at home better than New Orleans. The average score at half time of those last 14 games has been 20-9 in favor of the Saints, with only two of the 14 opponents leading at the break. Head coach Mike McCarthy rightfully called the environment at the Superdome a "hot box" this week, so the Packers could certainly use a fast start to help drain the life out of a tough setting. The team's starts are trending up recently, as the offense has scored seven points on the opening drive in each of the last two games, while the defense hasn't allowed a first-half touchdown since Chicago. Over the last three weeks, Green Bay has a 42-3 edge in the first quarter and a 66-6 advantage in the first half. Starting fast again Sunday night will go a long ways in snapping the Saints' impressive streak. 

 

2. Cobb's Night

Randall Cobb could have an impressive night patrolling the slot. Through seven games, Cobb ranks first in the NFL among slot targets (44), slot receptions (33) and slot touchdowns (eight). Meanwhile, the Saints defense has allowed the second most receiving yards from the slot, and Corey White—who will likely see plenty of Cobb inside—is currently giving up an opposing passer rating of 129.0 over a team-high 111 snaps against the slot. Only safety Kenny Vaccaro has more than 50 snaps inside this season, and his responsibilities have recently shifted more to the backend. On a fast track, Cobb could do serious damage against a defense that hasn't found an answer in covering the slot so far in 2014. 

 

3. Risk to Blitz

The Ryan brothers are notorious for their sometimes-confusing but always blitz-heavy defenses. Expect Rob Ryan to call his share of extra pressure Sunday night, regardless of the (decidedly one-sided) numbers. The Saints defensive coordinator has sent 76 blitzes this season, but opposing quarterbacks are 43 of 70 for 548 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (103.8 passer rating) against the extra pressure. Aaron Rodgers is arguably one of the best quarterbacks against the blitz in league history. This season, Rodgers has completed 62.0 percent of his passes at 9.5 yards per attempt—with six touchdowns, zero turnovers and a 132.8 passer rating—against the blitz. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

 

4. Jimmy's Shoulder

The health of Jimmy Graham's shoulder could swing the game either way. If he's close to 100 percent, Graham is a game-changer who could give the Packers fits, especially given their problems with Martellus Bennett (nine catches, 134 yards) and Greg Olsen (eight, 105) in recent weeks. Drew Brees said this week he believes Graham is much healthier than he was last weekend, when the Saints used him as nothing more than a decoy (just two targets). But if Graham is still more decoy than weapon, the Packers will avoid a huge matchup problem. Like most teams, the Packers don't have a great one-on-one option for Graham. He's a special player capable of hurting a defense on the perimeter, down the seam and in the red zone. How the Saints use Graham early on will provide a glimpse at how healthy his shoulder is. 

 

5. Another Chance to Rush

Over just the last three weeks, the Packers pass rush has delivered 73 total pressures, including 10 sacks. Some context on the 73 number: Green Bay's offensive line has allowed just 43 pressures all season (third best in the NFL), while the Saints offensive line has given up 81, which is tied with Carolina and the New York Jets for 24th. The New Orleans offensive line has especially struggled recently. Brees has been hit 14 times over the last two games, and his passer rating under pressure is just 21.9, including three interceptions. Bottom line: the Packers have another strong opportunity to unleash a pass rush that has been a wrecking ball at times recently. And if they do, there's a good chance Brees won't match his ridiculous statistical averages in primetime. 

 

Prediction: Packers 41, Saints 31 (5-2)

Can't ask for much more than Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on a fast track and in the national spotlight. Picking against Brees, whose hasn't lost a home night game since December 2009, probably isn't smart, but neither is taking the 28th ranked scoring defense against a white-hot Rodgers. Both teams will certainly score, but the Packers appear to have more answers ready on defense than the Saints. 

 

Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Comments (19)

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Bohj's picture

October 24, 2014 at 05:23 pm

Excellent break down as always Zach.
Did the Pack really struggle in D against Bennett and Olsen? A lot of that was garbage time with Olsen.
Marty B is pretty damn good though.

Press Jimmy at the line with an LB and blanket Hyde his way. If Jimmy's shoulder isn't 100%, he will most likely not come off of jams as smoothly as normal.

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Evan's picture

October 24, 2014 at 06:00 pm

Won both those games handily. I'll take that struggle any day.

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Zach Kruse's picture

October 24, 2014 at 06:42 pm

Yeah, to be fair, Olsen did a lot of damage after the game was out of reach, and Bennett actually had a "quiet" 125-yard game.

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PackerAaron's picture

October 25, 2014 at 01:54 pm

Olsen wasn't even targeted until it was 28-3. Which is crazy to me.

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NickPerry's picture

October 25, 2014 at 09:08 am

Bennett gave the Packers fits in the first half and then Cutler started being Cutler, throwing picks! I think you're right about Olson though, he didn't catch a ball until the end of the first half I believe.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

October 25, 2014 at 02:27 pm

I predict hearing "GO PACK GO" on the broadcast, mid 4th quarter, as Saint fan leaves the building.

Something like 41-30.

Just saw on FB somebody got banned. Anybody have any info?

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TommyG's picture

October 26, 2014 at 06:06 pm

They're going to pick on the corners and rookie safety (even though he's playing well). If they have success their running game is going to open up as well. A lot of that passing success depends on how our secondary plays. If they cover well and cleanly the saints are in for a long night. If our guys get beat or start drawing penalties his game will turn into a shoot out that I hope you all took the over on. I'm not worried about our packers offense. There will be room to throw and run. But that's just my $0.02.

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Lphill's picture

October 25, 2014 at 04:28 pm

what COW is realy saying is " I hope the Packers lose because if they win then they are 6 and 2 only two wins away from my prediction. " So when the Packers win he will then say," well the Saints only had 2 wins so The Packers have not beat a team with a winning record."Packers 30, Saints 21

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Samson's picture

October 25, 2014 at 04:33 pm

It's not illegal or a punishable offense if you actually make a post without referring somehow to COW. You seem to be abit obsessed.

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4thand1's picture

October 25, 2014 at 05:44 pm

skippy brings out the worst in all of us. skippy predicts a loss every Sunday for the Packers. skip cowless sucks.

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MarkinMadison's picture

October 25, 2014 at 06:54 pm

If the Packers come out and have the kind of first quarter they have been having lately then the crowd will get quiet real quick. And the running game becomes irrelevant when the Packers get up by a healthy margin. I've already said Packers 45-28, and I'll stick by that. I don't see much about this NO defense to like.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

October 25, 2014 at 07:06 pm

You guys are giving the Saints too much credit on Offense and not enough credit to our Defense. I don't think the Saints put up 30+ points.

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Lphill's picture

October 25, 2014 at 08:17 pm

well Samson, I have been visiting this site for a long time and always read cow's posts so I finally decided to join because I do not like this non-Packer fan mixing in here and disrespecting my team. if anyone here actually thinks he is a Packers fan then you are a fool .we have ways here in NY of taking care of people like COW.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

October 26, 2014 at 01:07 pm

Murder? You're going to murder cow?

Seems a bit drastic, but hey, we've all got choices to make.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

October 26, 2014 at 01:44 pm

Is it safe to say that the NFC North race is just the Pack and the (lucky) Lions?

The Bears are looking horrible and the Vikings are -- well,the Vikings...

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Imma Fubared's picture

October 26, 2014 at 10:44 pm

The Vikes looked good. Bridgewater is a quick study and coming around. Had the poise to march his team downfield with less than two minutes and tie the game and force overtime.
This will not be the same time we play when we go to Minny. The Vikes D is getting more impressive. Everytime someone does catch a pass there are two guys making the immediate tackle.
Never see a wide open guy like you do in packers defensive schemes.

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jmac34's picture

October 26, 2014 at 11:23 pm

They played Tampa....

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Big Moe's picture

October 26, 2014 at 05:59 pm

Big easy time for the Pack if they stay focused, and the Zebra's remain neutral (ie fail mary ) then the Saints go crawling home. Pack 35 Aints 14

GO Pack!!!!

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Imma Fubared's picture

October 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm

I bet on the Saints dismantling the Packers. Brees will pick apart our so called pass defense. Our non existant pass rush will give him the time.

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