Week 1 of the 2021 regular season kicked off with a bang last night, as Tampa Bay defeated Dallas with a game-winning field goal on Thursday Night Football. In a mid-afternoon Sunday matchup, the Green Bay Packers will look to start off their own season on the right foot in America’s Game of the Week on Fox against the New Orleans Saints.
For the Packers, it will be the first time since last January that the first-team offense has lined up together for a live game snap. Some pieces will look a little different, specifically on the offensive line where two players will be making their first starts, but the offense will attempt to continue its typical success versus the Saints’ defense. Fortunately for Green Bay, the pieces are in place for that to happen.
Today’s musings take a look at those advantages for the Packers on opening week, but also a couple of recent roster moves made by the Saints that also favor Green Bay.
Saints have made two transactions this week, but neither will factor into Sunday’s game
New Orleans was active earlier this week, making both a key subtraction and addition.
On Tuesday, the team released running back Latavius Murray after the veteran refused a pay cut to his expected $3.15 million salary and bonuses this season. While the Saints have an All-Pro in the backfield in Alvin Kamara, Murray had been a valuable second punch over the past two seasons in New Orleans with over 630 rushing yards each season. His ability to effectively spare Kamara, coupled with his size for short-yardage carries, made Murray a versatile change-of-pace back for the Saints. With the rise of second-year Tony Jones Jr., the team found Murray expendable despite the relative unknown that comes with Jones. Although Murray will not affect the outcome directly on Sunday, his departure removes a weapon for Green Bay to account for.
A day later, New Orleans created some shockwaves when it sent a third-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick to Houston in exchange for cornerback Bradley Roby. While it might have been hard for Roby to make an immediate impact within days of entering a new defensive scheme, he would have been a welcome addition for a defense searching for a starting cornerback opposite Marshon Lattimore. But Roby will be unable to take the field on Sunday as he serves a final game suspension for a previous performance-enhancing drug violation. The news is good for the Packers, as the Saints will instead trot out the likes of Ken Crawley, Paulson Adebo, and newly-signed Bears castoff Desmond Trufant at corner. Making matters worse for the Saints, Crawley and Lattimore were questionable as of Thursday due to injury. As the Packers get their full wide receiver gang back together on Sunday, they should have a clear advantage over an unstable secondary that will fortunately not have Roby available.
If there were ever a time to break in two rookies along the offensive line, it is this weekend
The Packers’ latest depth chart reveals two rookie starters on the offensive line in center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman. In David Bakhtiari’s absence, it now appears likely that Elgton Jenkins will be the left tackle and the fourth-round pick Newman will be sprung into action right away in Week 1. Many years, starting two rookies in the middle of the line would be a significant concern, especially against a Saints defensive line that includes Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan. However, the New Orleans depth chart at defensive tackle tends to ease some concerns.
A pair of former Packers are listed on the two-deep of the interior defensive line: Christian Ringo and Montravius Adams. That Ringo is slated to start for the Saints is remarkable considering he hasn’t logged a snap since 2018. Meanwhile, second-year Malcolm Roach, a former undrafted player, is the other anticipated starter and tallied just two quarterback hits last year as a rookie over nine games. The starting tandem leaves plenty to be desired, as does the inconsistent Adams and the other reserve Shy Tuttle. Although the Saints may be aggressive with their blitzes, the one-on-one blocking matchups should favor Green Bay.
As the Packers look to establish a running attack between the tackles while keeping Aaron Rodgers upright in the passing game, they should have an advantage on the interior even with inexperienced starters. Factor in a location change that should dramatically diminish the crowd noise and pre-snap confusion that playing in New Orleans would usually bring, and Sunday is as good a day as any for the Packers to break out their newest line members.
Historically, the Saints and Packers have had high-scoring matchups
In the teams’ past 10 matchups dating back to 1995, Green Bay and New Orleans have played in barn-burner scoring affairs. In all but one game (2017) in that span of time, the teams have combined for at least 55 points. In many ways over the past decade, the two teams have faced similar circumstances as NFC contenders, boasting potent offenses with transcending franchise quarterbacks and inconsistent defenses with particularly vulnerable secondaries.
This year, however, the teams find themselves in opposite places to begin the year. The Packers may indeed have a last-dance, Super Bowl-contending squad that hopes to make up for last year’s crushing defeat in the NFC Championship Game. With Rodgers under center and most of the same pieces on defense, despite a new coordinator, the Packers are in perhaps better position than the Saints to win a shootout. New Orleans will enter the first game of the Jameis Winston era with a creative head coach, but faces plenty of instability on defense, as noted earlier, that could prevent the unit from getting off the field.
It is certainly possible that Sunday afternoon’s box score will ultimately result in another 55-plus point combination. The Packers only hope that this year’s score will be more like the 2005 outcome (a 52-3 Packers win) than that of 2008 (a 51-29 Saints win) with the scoring scales tilted strongly in their favor.