Who is going to be hungrier? That is the question you have been hearing (and probably asking) all week so far. It’s not a bad question to ask when looking at this game. Both teams need to get a win to start turning around their season and the loser of the game will have their season in danger very early in the year. In this sort of game it will often come down to who wants it more, or who is hungrier, but I don’t think that determines this game in particular. Rather, I think the key is going to be who can focus better during the week and in the game itself. Meaning the team that can put disappointing performances of the previous few weeks behind them and focus on the game at hand is going to be the team to win on Sunday.
The main person that this will fall upon this week is Mike McCarthy. McCarthy has done a good job of keeping the team focused through good times and bad times. He’s a coach who typically finds the right buttons to push with his players to get them ready to go for the next week. McCarthy is going to be a real asset for the Packers as they try to forget about the Seattle Screwjob and get back to winning football games as well as the race for the NFC North.
The Saints meanwhile are struggling to find that sort of leadership. The team is without its head coach, Sean Payton. The team is also without its interim head coach Joe Vitt. Right now the ship is being steered by interim-interim head coach Aaron Kromer. I’ll let our friends at Canal Street Chronicles answer questions about how Kromer is doing compared to Vitt so on and so forth. I will add that recently an interesting quote came out from Kriomer who has admitted that the team may not have handled the distractions of the offseason well. Can Kromer get his team focused back on the task at hand and help turn around a team struggling on both offense and defense?
As for the X’s and O’s right now the Packers couldn’t ask for a better opponent coming off a short, disappointing week. Right now the Saints defense is ranked dead last in the NFL. This is the perfect opportunity to get the Packers offense, which is struggling and looking for a new identity, to get kick started and start to blossom into the powerhouse it is hyped to be this year. The real key for the offense in general is going to be to stay patient, establish the running game, and not force the downfield pass until the defense is properly softened up to strike. The biggest goal, besides winning of course, is going to be to get some swagger back after three disappointing performances.
On defense this is going to be the best match for the Packers since week 2 against the Chicago Bears. The Saints love to pass and put the ball into Drew Brees’ hands. Right now the Packers pass defense looks quite good with a vastly improved pass rush and young talented secondary led by Tramon Williams. Charles Woodson continues to thrive in his hybrid safety/cornerback role and has been able to make plays in run support and in coverage. Up front the dynamic play of Clay Matthews has been phenomenal this year and if he can continue this playmaking ability he may be in the running once again for defensive player of the year.
As much as this veteran play has been important to the Packers the real story has been the young rookie contributors. Jerron McMillian has been very good at safety and his play allows the Packers to move Woodson in and out as they wish. Nick Perry has been consistent with this pressure and has helped free up Matthews. Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy have been able to get an inside push for the Packers in the pass rush. Casey Hayward has shut down most of the receivers he has covered since getting more playing time in week 2.
Without a doubt this will be the toughest test for the rookies so far this year. The Saints offense is a much better unit than that of the Bears, 49ers, or Seahawks. They have the weapons to match Green Bay score for score as was seen in the first game of 2011…..especially with weapons like Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, and Darren Sproles for Brees to throw to. Pierre Thomas also adds a solid running and screen option for Brees if the passing offense struggles. The Packers may have to once again lean on this improved defense to seal the game away, even if the Packers offense can score 30+ points for the first time this season.