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An assessment of where the Saints showed improvement in their game against Green Bay, yet where there is also still more work to be done.
Despite playing their most complete game this season, it was still not enough to earn them their first victory as the New Orleans Saints fell short to the Green Bay Packers in a heartbreaking loss 28-27. The improvement displayed by the Saints was significant, especially on the offensive side of the ball. However, the defensive struggles continued as they were unable to generate any real pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Saints secondary continued to appear to be a step or two behind a Cheesehead receiving corps that was playing without their primary target Greg Jennings.
Backed by an offensive line that did a much better job of protecting him, despite allowing two sacks, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his best game of the season completing 35 of 54 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Brees and wide receiver Marques Colston finally started to click for the first time this season catching 9 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown, while reserve wide receiver Joe Morgan showed that he could produce beyond the preseason catching his first NFL touchdown on an 80 yard bomb in which he caught it about 20 yards behind the nearest Packer defender. However, probably the most impressive Saints offensive statistic was that they did not allow a single turnover, making it even more of a shame that they did not win.
It was not all completely rosy on the offensive side of the ball though. The ground game was virtually non-existent as Saints running backs only picked up a combined 45 yards on 19 carries. Pierre Thomas, who has been one of the few bright spots this season, seemed to have an off-day gaining only 14 yards on 9 carries and was never really targeted on any screen passes where he has proven to be very effective. While it is incredibly entertaining to watch Brees put up huge passing numbers, the team overall effectiveness will continue to be undercut by the lack of a balanced offensive attack, which is even more disappointing when you have a first round Heisman Trophy running back.
Once again, the defense seemed over matched. Yet it was still refreshing to see them create two turnovers and provided a slight glimps of the 2009 defense that gave up a bunch of yardage but created an astonishing number of turnovers, mainly through Free Safety Darren Sharper. While cornerback Patrick Robinson struggled throughout the game to keep up with wide receiver Jordy Nelson he did make the defensive play of the year (not saying much I admit) lunging to snag a Rodgers pass as the Saints had taken the 3rd quarter momentum. After drawing a facemask penalty, which put the Packers at the goal line and Rodgers to the sideline for a play after getting poked in the eye, free safety Malcolm Jenkins redeemed himself as burst into the backfield and recovered a Cedric Benson fumble on the next very play.
Sadly, the one area in which the Saints did not show any signs of improvement has also been their greatest flaw, and the primary factor for this loss too. Just like the first three games, the defensive front four was still unable to put any significant pressure on the opposing team quarterback. Defensive End Will Smith was the only lineman that seemed able to get past his blocker and into the backfield but he was way too slow to give adequate chase and disrupting a mobile Aaron Rodgers from getting his pass off or taking off and running for the first down marker himself.
Some may blame this loss on the holding call by David Thomas that negated Garrett Hartley's 43-yard field goal that would have put the Saints up 30-28, or they may blame it on Hartley himself for not making the second attempt from 48 yards away. However, with the lack of a pass rush the Saints defense was generating I am pretty sure that Aaron Rodgers would have led the Packers offense down the field for the winning score on the final drive, and this heartbreaking loss would have felt even worse.