As exciting as both teams can be, the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints just don’t get together that often. The Packers haven’t played the Saints since 2017 and haven’t traveled to New Orleans for a matchup since 2014. Suffice it to say, we’ve got some catching up to do before the teams take the field for a prime time showdown on Sunday night.
To help us do that, we reached out to Canal Street Chronicles managing editor Chris Dunnells. In our two-part conversation, he’s going to help us get to know the Saints’ offense and defnese a little better.
Here’s part one of that conversation. Check back tomorrow for part two.
Acme Packing Company: Drew Brees has had something of a mixed start to his 2020 season. What do you think of the future Hall of Famer at age 41? Is he still formidable?
Chris Dunnells: Drew is far from the 2011 version that should have won MVP (sorry, Aaron Rodgers). (Editor’s note: No.) He is likely average to slightly below average, as it relates to physicality at the quarterback position. His arm strength seems to be declining with age, and while never a running quarterback, he’s not really a threat to run out of the pocket. But his decision-making and play-recognition from an opposing defense are still first-ballot Hall of Fame-worthy, and that’s where Brees can thrive. He can look at a defense before the snap, recognize the type of coverage, audible into a play design that can best attack the defense, and then has just enough in the tank to execute in the short and intermediate field.
But don’t sell out too much on the short stuff — he might not have the same accuracy on deep passes, but he can still air it out. Sean and Drew love to call designed shot plays to hopefully get a Saints receiver open deep down the field with enough space to give Brees a bit of a margin for error.
APC: What’s the latest on Michael Thomas’s injury? If he doesn’t play, what does the Saints offense look like?
CD: The original timeline was 2-4 weeks, so I wouldn’t expect Thomas back this week. I think next week against the Lions is the most likely scenario.
What does the Saints offense look like? Probably the way the Packers offense would look without Aaron Rodgers.
“But Chris, Rodgers is our quarterback! Don’t you mean ‘what the Packers offense would look like without Davante Adams?’”
No. I said what I said. The Saints offense is designed to flow through Michael Thomas in the same way the Panthers flow through Christian McCaffrey or the Packers flow through Aaron Rodgers. Your offense is generally created in a way to best-utilize your best player. For the Saints, that’s 2019 Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas. Even if he’s not the target of a pass, his pre-snap motion or running underneath routes is what helps open the field up for other receivers on the Saints. Without Thomas, the entire offense struggles.
APC: Packers fans are still pretty sore about letting Jared Cook walk after the 2016 season. Given the struggles the Packers have had defending tight ends, what do you think the chances of a Jared Cook revenge game are?
CD: Because Thomas isn’t likely to play in the game and Emmanuel Sanders is still struggling with the playbook because of no preseason, Jared Cook is one of the receiving options who has the most chemistry with Brees at this point. For the first half of the Raiders game on Monday Night, every third down attempt — conversion or otherwise — went to Jared Cook. That’s no exaggeration. Cook has gained Brees’s trust. What are the odds Cook has a “revenge game?” 50/50. What are the odds Drew and Cook try to make it a revenge game? 100%
APC: Speaking of revenge and Packers fans, what have you seen from Taysom Hill so far this season? Has the gadget routine continued?
CD: Taysom Hill is one of the most entertaining playing on the Saints. He’s still absolutely electric with the ball in his hands, and he’s developing more as a passer. Opposing defenses can’t just defend a run with Hill at quarterback. Now, especially considering Drew’s problems throwing deep, Hill can be called on to air one out.
APC: That about covers the big names, but who’s one player Packers fans might not know about that we should be aware of?
CD: Second-year wide receiver Deonte Harris. The UDFA earned first team All-Pro honors last year as a return specialist, and you want to talk about electric players with the ball in their hands? Look no further than 5’6 Deonte Harris. He is always a threat to bring a punt or kick to the house, and his hidden yardage on punt returns is an unsung specialty of this Saints team. But his involvement on the offensive side of the ball is continuing to grow, and Sean Payton is constantly looking for ways to get Harris the ball in space.
APC: If you were Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, how would you try to slow down the Saints?
CD: Protect the underneath stuff and force Brees to beat you deep. Trust your outside coverage and safety play, and keep everything in front of you.