GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: Randall Cobb #18 of the Green Bay Packers gets help from teammate John Kuhn #30 staying on his feet on a 108 yard kick-off return for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the NFL opening season game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Saints 42-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
With this long period of time between minicamp and training camp, I've decided to re-watch every single Green Bay Packers game from last season. I didn't have NFL Rewind or a DVR last season, so I have seen every Packers game from last year precisely once, when it was played. I went into all of those games with opinions of Packers players and opponents that are obviously much different than they are now.
As anyone who's ever completed this exact exercise knows, you see things a lot differently upon second viewing, six-plus months later. Knowing what I know now, watching the Week 1 game against the New Orleans Saints was a much different experience than watching it last September.
I'm going to try to do these reports in a generally similar fashion for all 17 games. Let me know what you like/don't like about this, and I might switch things up for Week 2.
Packers vs. Saints - Week 1
Final Score: Packers 42. Saints 34
Packers' record entering game: 0-0
Saints' record entering game: 0-0
Packers' offensive/special teams MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Packers' defensive MVP: Tramon Williams
Saints' offensive/special teams MVP: Darren Sproles
Saints' defensive MVP: Uhh ... we'll give it to Roman Harper
More after the jump
First quarter major notes
- Will Smith was suspended for this game, if you don't remember. In his absence, Turk McBride started and played more snaps than usual for the Saints. This significantly affected their pass rush, which was poor during this game.
- The first touchdown of the game came on a back shoulder throw to Greg Jennings, who was covered in straight man-to-man coverage by Patrick Robinson. This was the second time in the drive that Robinson was exposed; the touchdown was set up by a big play to Jordy Nelson, on which Gregg Williams gambled with a blitz and got burned.
- Marques Colston's fumble on the Saints' first series was a bigger turning point in the game than anyone could have possibly imagined, early in the first quarter. Who knows what happens if the Saints go on to score on that possession, or even punt to pin the Packers at their own 20-yard line or deeper?
- Though the first touchdown came against man and Williams threw quite a few blitzes at the Packers (that were well picked-up), he spent a lot of the first two series' sitting in a soft zone. The second touchdown of the game, to Jordy Nelson, came against a soft zone. Jabari Greer, in particular, was always 10 yards off his man and whoever he was covering got the ball because of it. Color commentator Chris Collinsworth remarked that he believed this was Williams' way of accounting for Jermichael Finley, who had three big catches for 53 yards. This makes sense, considering the one time he absolutely abused Harper in man-to-man.
- The Saints' first touchdown came on what could best be categorized as a bad play call by Dom Capers, and equally bad recognition of a play by Nick Collins. On 3rd and 1, Howard Green and Jarius Wynn were brought into a four-man line to stop the run. The play call was a play-action pass with Robert Meachem running a deep post route. Tramon Williams was playing outside technique on Meachem and Collins bit hard on the play action. This left Meachem with the middle of the field completely wide open. Williams did a spectacular job to recover and contest Meachem at all.
Second quarter major notes
- The Packers defense came up big in the red zone on the Saints' first drive of the second quarter, but they were put into a tough position by Dom Capers making poor calls again. I don't think anyone here thinks that Dom Capers is anything less than a great defensive play-caller, but man, he got it wrong on a number of occasions in this game. On a 2nd and 9 play, he got burned by a gamble, where A.J. Hawk was a split second late getting to Drew Brees. He fired to Jimmy Graham -- who had way too much time to lose Erik Walden -- for a big gain.
- Bad Dom call No. 2 on the same drive: On a 3rd and 14, the Packers rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. The eight, inexplicably, all dropped well behind the first down marker and Devery Henderson picked up a very easy first down just by picking out a hole in the zone right at the sticks. How are there any holes right at the sticks? Insane. Luckily, the three corners were all spectacular when this drive got inside the 20.
- This was the quarter of the "Randall Cobb has arrived" play. Those of you who remember it very vividly might remember Cobb's cut totally destroying Harper, and then you might find yourself wondering why Harper was my Saints defensive MVP. Well, the Saints put Harper in some awful situations in this game, manned up on Cobb and Finley. That's just unfair, and poor design by Williams. Cobb's TD was awesome, but Williams gifted it to him.
- The second quarter was a big one for Tom Crabtree. This made me think of the thread about a week ago, where I said that I think Crabtree is a candidate for getting cut at the 53-man cut-down and a number of you criticized me. It's just one game, but y'all might have been right. Crabtree was a beast on the Packers' final drive of the second quarter, which resulted in a touchdown. He had a truly elite-level block on one play that sprang James Starks for a 10-yard run, then ran a great hitch route on a 3rd and 2 and made a catch for the first down.
- That drive, which made it 28-17 in favor of the Packers, was a perfectly balanced drive. Seven running plays, seven passing plays. Expertly called by McCarthy, with Starks and Crabtree helping to give the team a lot of balance and open things up for Rodgers.
Third quarter major notes
- The best part of the third quarter was easily the battles between B.J. Raji and the Saints' interior linemen. Jahri Evans, Olin Kreutz and Carl Nicks is about as good of a middle of a line as a team can get. B.J. came out looking fresh and rested after the halftime break, but the middle three of the Saints' line were ready. Sometimes B.J. blew up plays, sometimes one of those big guards got the better of him, and sometimes they were locked in a stalemate. I ended up watching Raji against the guards for the majority of the Saints' time on offense.
- Sam Shields had a very good first half, but the third quarter was not nice to him. He got his stuff ruined by Devery Henderson a couple of times. You guys probably remember the Henderson touchdown where he beat Shields over the top, but there were a couple of other times when Shields' man -- usually Henderson -- got the better of him. This was really not a good look.
- The Randall Cobb 108-yard return touchdown. Gonna let this speak for itself. Screw analysis. Analysis just clouds the beauty of this.
Fourth quarter major notes
- This quarter actually featured a three-and-out for the Packers defense! On back-to-back-to-back plays, Shields, Williams and Jarrett Bush made stellar plays. Seriously. Shields breaks up a pass to Meachem on first down, Williams makes a fantastic aggressive tackle in open space on Meachem in the flat on second down and Jarrett Bush gets to Brees on the corner blitz on third down. Too bad they couldn't do this consistently over the course of the season.
- The Packers' best drive of the game started in the third quarter and ran into the 4th. It was ridiculously impressive, a 12 play, 93 yard masterclass. However, it featured a lot of bad coverage by the Saints and bad calls by Williams as well. Jordy Nelson had one great play where he juked a tackler in the flat and went for nine yards, but his other two catches on this drive were gifted to him. Greer and Robinson both had turns on him, and they both played 10 yards off, including on the drive's key play to Nelson that got the Packers down to the 1-yard line.
- Even though the Packers won this game, the Saints' last touchdown drive featured one of the biggest negative plays of the season, somehow illustrating two of the biggest problems with the Packers' defense in one singular play. On a 3rd and 7, A.J. Hawk absolutely whiffed on a tackle attempt on Pierre Thomas. For a starting NFL inside linebacker, it was a poor effort. Because Thomas got by Hawk, Williams was brought into the play. This is the play where he injured his shoulder. Missed tackles don't only lead to first downs, kids.
- B.J. Raji and co.'s big stuff on Mark Ingram after Hawk's DPI gave the Saints one last shot was awesome. Related: What a bad quarter for A.J. Hawk, huh?
- Jarius Wynn -- yes, Jarius Wynn -- had a monster game. He probably had two or three excellent games last season and was mostly invisible otherwise, but this was one of his great performances. I was stunned at how often he was in on plays. His four tackle, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss and 1 other QB hit line tells a lot of the story, but I promise you, he was even better than that line. He was a big part of why the Saints only ran for 3.9 yards per carry.
- Tramon Williams also had a monster game before he picked up his injury. After watching this, I am inclined to believe him about his injury affecting his play in 2011. It will be very interesting to watch him in Week 3 and subsequent games, but the Williams I saw in this game was much better than how I remember Williams' 2011 season.
- This game was definitely a big piece of evidence in support of the "Greg Jennings is better than Jordy Nelson" argument. Their stats don't look that different on the surface -- Jennings had seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, Nelson had six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown -- but Jennings was much better. The degree of difficulty on his catches was much harder and he often had a corner on him like a blanket. A few of Nelson's catches came as a result of the defense accounting much more for Jennings and Finley. Nelson was good, Jennings was dominant.
- Between the play of Williams and Wynn, this was actually a good defensive performance. The Saints' 34 points and Drew Brees 112.0 QBR might make you think otherwise, but there were probably only two bad errors in this game: Shields getting torched by Henderson and the Meachem TD, which was the fault of both Capers and Collins.
We thought these were the best two offenses in the league after this game, and 16 weeks later, we were absolutely right. The New York Giants and San Fransisco 49ers both had much better defenses that carried them to the NFC Championship, but even Tom Brady and the Patriots didn't match these two teams for offensive firepower and efficiency. This wasn't just a case of mediocre defensive personnel not making stops, but offenses being so good that two of the best in the business, Capers and Williams, appeared to be stumped.
This was a really fun game to watch, but I can't help but wonder how it (and the Packers' season) might have been different if Smith wasn't suspended and Colston didn't fumble. I love how, in this game, one play or one player can turn things so significantly.