After starting the season 1-2, the Green Bay Packers have rebounded in resounding fashion, winning four games in a row and looking good doing it. Green Bay's Sunday night opponent, New Orleans, was also 1-2 after three games.
The Saints however, have won only once and lost twice since being 1-2. They are quickly approaching the dreaded "must-win" zone and would find themselves right in the middle of it with a loss of Sunday.
Can New Orleans rediscover its winning ways of old? It's going to be tough against this Green Bay team. To learn a bit more about the Packers, Jason Hirschhorn who covers them for Acme Packing Company was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Here we go!
Canal Street Chronicles: The Packers started the season 1-2, which included a head-scratching 7-19 road-loss to the Lions. Although Detroit has a great defense, not many expected them to stifle the Packers' offense and Aaron Rodgers that way. Since then however, Green Bay has won four in row, outscoring their last four opponents 145 to 68. What changed after the loss at Ford Field?
Jason Hirschhorn: The driving force behind the Packers resurgence has been the team's most visible player, Aaron Rodgers. Though the raw box score doesn't necessarily suggest it, Rodgers did not play particularly well the first three weeks of the season. Against the Jets, he threw a career-high six underthrown incompletions. He nearly matched that total a week later in Detroit.
But as one might expect, Rodgers eventually corrected the issues and began his current tear through the NFL. Since the Lions game, he's completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 977 yards, 13 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Meanwhile, the Packers defense has steadily improved. The unlikely hero has been nose tackle Letroy Guion, a free agent addition trust into the starting lineup as the result of B.J. Raji's season-ending torn biceps. While the run defense for the year hasn't performed well, it's been less of a problem of late due in large part to Guion's play.
CSC: Seven games in, Jordy Nelson is having a ridiculous season: 47 catches on 73 targets, 712 yards (second in the NFL) and 6 touchdowns. I know he has a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, but do you feel like he has quietly been the best receiver in the league this year?
JH: Actually for the first time in his career the national media has given Jordy Nelson his due praise. Nelson was rarely if ever mentioned as one the league's top receivers after his monster 2011 and 2013 campaigns, but this year Nelson's name has come up alongside Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and the other big name receivers.
While playing with Rodgers certainly benefits receivers, Nelson proved last year that he produces regardless of who throws him the ball. During Rodgers' half-season long absence recovering from a fractured collarbone, Nelson put up 504 yards catching passes from Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn. I suspect his production while Rodgers was sidelined did a lot to change the league's perception of Nelson as a player. Though a few others are better, any conversation about the league's best receivers that doesn't include Nelson is a flawed.
CSC: The Packers boast a pretty stout defense (10th overall in the NFL with a -5.5% DVOA, 6th against the pass and 22nd against the run). If Green Bay's defense has one small weakness, it seems to be its play against the run. New Orleans, to the surprise of even Saints fans, has the second-ranked rushing attack in the entire league according to Football Outsiders (10.2% DVOA). Why has Green Bay been somewhat susceptible to the run? To that effect, do you think that this is an area that the Saints will want to attack if they are to have any chance to win on Sunday night?
JH: While the run defense has been much stouter over the last three or so weeks, it certainly is the weakest part of Dom Capers' unit.
Earlier in the year, when Raji's injury was fresh and Letroy Guion hadn't settled in yet, opposing offenses found plenty of open space through the A and B gaps. Once there, Green Bay's ineffectual inside linebacker A.J. Hawk. While that's still somewhat true, the Packers have mitigated the damage somewhat by getting to the runner in the backfield with greater regularity.
With Mark Ingram healthy again and one of the league's better guard tandem's in Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, expect the pass-happy Saints to make a concerted effort to run it up the gut.
CSC: With a four-game winning streak and the Saints struggling, how are the Packers players and fans approaching this Sunday night game? Do they feel like this will be an easy win or is there some apprehension about Green Bay coming into the Superdome a bit overconfident?
JH: Green Bay's players will say all the right things about not overlooking a 2-4 Saints team. That's not to suggest it's purely lip service, but it's impossible to really know how they view New Orleans from outside the locker room.
As for those following the team, Packers fans tend towards caution. Despite the Saints woes this year, this is still a team that hasn't lost a home regular season game in their last 19 attempts. They still have Drew Brees. They still have Jimmy Graham. Most importantly, they still have Sean Payton, the league's most aggressive offensive play caller. No one goes into the Superdome expecting an easy day at the office.
CSC: You know I'm going to have to put you on the spot: how do you see this game turning out? Who wins and what is going to be the determining factor in the outcome?
JH: The Packers have the better team, with the better quarterback, and the better defense. In most cases, that should equate to a win whether at home or on the road.
But the Saints at the Superdome are one of the few exceptions. Even on an off day, they tend to make enough plays to seal the win at home. When everything clicks, it's nearly impossible to knock that team off in New Orleans. Surely others at Acme Packing Company will pick Green Bay, but this is a game I don't see the Saints losing.
Many thanks to Jason for taking the time to talk Saints-Packers with us.
For additional Green Bay coverage, please visit Acme Packing Company.