NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 24: Pierre Thomas #23 of the New Orleans Saints runs 31 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers on November 24, 2009 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
I'm a pleading ignorance when it comes to the New Orleans Saints, and I'm not pretending to be an expert on their team. But I'm looking at their stats from 2010, and their roster changes coming into 2011, and considering how the Green Bay Packers might match up against them.
If you haven't blocked it from your memory, the Packers allowed 51 points in a game against the Saints back in 2008. That sounds scary, but that was three seasons ago which is like 100 in NFL years. Back then, Dom Capers was not the defensive coordinator and Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji were still in college. While some key players in the secondary such as Charles Woodson and Nick Collins were starting that day, the Packers had big problems at the other starting safety spot. That 2008 Saints game was followed by games at home against the Panthers and Texans that highlighted those problems. The secondary is a lot better now, and the defense is entirely different.
Obviously the Saints are powered by Drew Brees on offense. He did everything you'd expect from him in 2010: 4620 yards passing while completing over 68% of his passes. He's got the same group of wide receivers returning this season, and though TE Jeremy Shockey was released, that was done to expand the role for second year TE Jimmy Graham. If Brees had one problem it was turnovers: he had 22 INTs and 9 fumbles in 2010. The Packers are going to give up some short passes, but their focus should be to prevent the big play, make the Saints work all the way down the field, and then pressure Brees into a turnover.
While the Saints defense was ranked a respectable 9th against the run and pass in 2010 by Football Outsiders, anyone who saw the Seahawks tear apart their secondary, and watched RB Marshawn Lynch run wild, knows the Saints had some defensive problems to shore up. They made a few changes, but apparently they thought their defense just needed a couple additions instead of a full-scale overhaul.
Their secondary is basically the same group of players that struggled in Seattle, but now guys like S Malcolm Jenkins are healthy. They've also added DE Turk McBride in free agency, and 1st round pick DE Cameron Jordan, to improve their pass rush, but they'll be without suspended DE Will Smith. They don't have a lot of depth in their secondary, and don't have a fearsome pass rush from their front four, so the Packers will probably go with multiple receiver looks to spread them out and attack them downfield.
The Saints are hoping the free agent additions of NT Shaun Rogers and NT Aubrayo Franklin will improve the run defense. The Packers will certainly let RB Ryan Grant run against their defense, and he could have a big game.
There's no doubt the Saints are a formidable opponent, but they do have some weaknesses on defense that the Packers can exploit. The Packers defense will be in for quite a test against the Saints pass offense, but they match up as well against them as any team in the NFL. Unless rookie RB Mark Ingram can emerge in his first NFL game, the Saints aren't well positioned to exploit the Packers suspect run defense.