Preview: Green Bay at New Orleans

Rankings from Football Outsiders:

Teams Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 17 8 29 2
New Orleans 13 4 15 28

Two sore thumbs really stick out; the Packers lousy run defense and the Saints lousy pass defense. The Saints fans expect QB Aaron Rodgers to have a career day. I'll have to take their word that the pass defense is as bad as it looks.

I have no reason to expect the Packers run defense is any better now then it has been all season. Chicago's RB Matt Forte didn't have a big game last week, but that was because the Packers' offense spent most of the game on the field and he had few carries. But he didn't have any big runs either. I'm would be concerned that the Saints rushing attack appears to be pretty good, but the SB Nation Saints blogger Saintsational thinks the running game sucks:

"This is a sore subject and I’m sure some of my readers are going to see this and pounce on it. The Saints running game sucks. But I don’t think its for a lack of talent, I think its for a lack of a coaching."

Judging from the stats at Football Outsiders, it seems New Orleans is a good running team when they hand off to RB Pierre Thomas and RB Deuce McAllister, but not when it's RB Reggie Bush. Still the Saints fans at Canal Street Chronicles all seem excited about the Bush's possible return. But one thing really stands out; the Saints don't like to run the ball. So far this season they've thrown the ball 398 times and carried it only 251. To give Packer fans an idea of how lopsided that is the Packers have 323 pass attempts versus 273 carries. The lack of carries is why the official NFL rankings (based on yards/game) have the Saints as 28th running the ball while Football Outsiders ranks (based in large part on success rank per run) them much higher.

The Saints match up very poorly against the Packers if they have to throw the ball a lot. They've probably had to throw a lot more in some games because they're defense has put them in a hole and they have to try and comeback. But a lot of pass attempts is just more opportunties for an interception by the outstanding Packer secondary.

The Saints defense is going to have a lot of problems trying to slow down the Packers. Their run defense is average, but RB Ryan Grant has been resurgent the past three games against much better run defenses. I don't see any reason QB Aaron Rodgers shouldn't have a big game in a domed stadium against a pass defense that is clearly on the ropes.

If the Packers can grab an early lead by 10 points or more, then the game could turn into a Colts-type blowout. The Saints best chance at winning is grinding out an Atlanta-type win where they build an early lead on some big passing plays, their defense doesn't allow any big plays, and they run the ball late to clinch the victory. The key for a Saints' victory is whether one of their receivers can imitate the day Atlanta's WR Roddy White had against the Packers.

A lot of things have to go right for the Saints in this game, but their pass offense is capable of building a lead and keeping up in shootout. The Packers have a lot in their favor, but I can see how it might get away from them. The Saints have scored between 24 to 34 points every game this season at the Superdome and the Packers will need to have a big game on offense to put this one out of reach. Packers 34, Saints 27.

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