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Pass protection, 3rd Down conversion key for Saints offense against Packers

Drew Brees and the Saints offense looks to put on a show against the Packers, but there’s a few areas that need to improve in order to do so.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers

It’s been five years since the New Orleans Saints last visited Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers. 2012’s matchup saw the then winless and Sean Payton-less Saints fail to capture a lead late and fall to 0-4. Just the year before, the two faced off in a highly entertaining season opener, but the Saints fell short in the end. Both games were synonymous in New Orleans having to overcome coincident deficits of 21-7 early.

This season’s matchup has a much different feel, mainly because there’s no Aaron Rodgers-Drew Brees duel we’ll get to witness. Both the Packers (4-2) and Saints (3-2) carry winning records into this game, and New Orleans is currently a 4.5-point underdog according to Bovada. While much emphasis is on the team’s defense right now, what does the offense need to do to steal the spotlight?

The Passing Game

Drew Brees has a 3-3 career record against the Packers, which includes one game with the Chargers back in 2003 (a 38-21 loss). In five games with the Saints, Brees has 15 touchdowns and one interception (2006) to boast, with three 300-yard and two 400-yard performances. He’s 140-of-202 (69 percent completion) for 1,852 yards.

Drew Brees vs. the Packers

Date Result Score Completions Attempts Percentage Yards Yards/Att TD INT Rating Sacks
Date Result Score Completions Attempts Percentage Yards Yards/Att TD INT Rating Sacks
9-17-06 Win 34-27 26 41 63.41% 353 8.61 2 1 96.9 4
11-24-08 Win 51-29 20 26 76.92% 323 12.42 4 0 157.5 1
9-8-11 Loss 42-34 32 49 65.31% 419 8.55 3 0 112.5 3
9-30-12 Loss 28-27 35 54 64.81% 446 8.26 3 0 109 2
10-26-14 Win 44-23 27 32 84.38% 311 9.72 3 0 138.4 2
Totals/Averages 140 202 69.31% 1852 9.512 15 1 122.86 12
Brees against the Packers John Hendrix

Of course, the Saints are just 1-2 at Lambeau, and this 2017 version of Brees has yet to have that ‘killer’ game that we’ve seen over the years. Yes, he’s had some good performances against New England and Carolina, but we’re talking about the Drew Brees who fires on every cylinder and simply takes over the game. Part of the reason Brees may not have the killer stats, although respectable through five games, is the amount of time he takes to get rid of the ball.

Check out some of my thoughts on the Pack to the Future podcast with Brian Fonfara, starting at the 35-minute mark.

According to Pro Football Focus, when Brees holds onto the ball for more than 2.5 seconds he has a QB Rating of 21.8. (second-worst in the league). Right now, PFF charts him with throwing the ball in just 2.24 seconds (second-fastest). Part of this could be attributed to the team’s shuffling of the offensive line, which has seen some breakdowns in pass protection. There has also been some underthrown and low balls to the Saints receivers, as was evident on some intended targets to Michael Thomas and Willie Snead in Week 6’s victory over the Lions.

Another sore spot in the team’s passing game is their 3rd Down conversion rate, which is just 22-of-60 (36.7 percent). Still, Brees is one of the smartest quarterbacks out there, and with this being the second week in a row the Saints should have their regular o-line in place, it should help tremendously.

The Packers defense is allowing 206.3 passing yards per game this season (11th-best), and has a fairly decent third down defense in the league allowing just a 39.4 percent conversion rate (28-of-71 - ranked 18th). Dom Capers’ unit has 11.0 sacks on the season (27th in the NFL), with 4 interceptions (T-18th) and 5 forced fumbles (T-15th)

The Run Game

NFL: Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Adrian Peterson saga ended at a good time for the Saints, it would appear. After sluggish starts to begin the season, the offense is now averaging 113.8 yards per game on the ground (14th) for 569 total net yards. Mark Ingram (67-242-2 TD) is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, while rookie Alvin Kamara (25-158-TD) is averaging 6.3 yards per carry. The biggest jolt to the team’s rushing offense was evident with the return of Terron Armstead in Week 6.

The Packers are giving up nearly 120 yards/game on the ground (119.8 - ranked 24th). So, Sean Payton could attempt to replicate their Week 6 outing, which saw the Saints rush for 193 yards as opposed to throwing for 186 passing yards. It would appear the offense is best suited trying to find success around the edge and off tackle, as their interior combination of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark are fairly underrated. Center Max Unger hasn’t exactly been strong for the Saints either.

Top Three Players to Watch

  • Michael Thomas - He’s yet to have a 100-yard receiving game this season, and is barely in the Top 25 in receiving (24th) for this season. I like Thomas to have a big game here, especially in the red zone. The Packers secondary is banged up, and it’s likely they can’t contain Thomas.
  • Coby Fleener - He was completely missing in action last week against the Lions, as the Saints went with more 11 and 22 personnel, meaning more Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanwanui. Fleener has less snaps (140) than Hill (145) and Hooman (152), so maybe if the offense can get a good rhythm going, Fleener will have a bigger opportunity.
  • Max Unger - I alluded to him earlier, and he hasn’t particularly been that good this season. He’s currently the 32nd ranked center with a grade of 40.9, according to Pro Football Focus. His pass block grade is 58.1, while his run grade is 38.5. Perhaps Unger isn’t as healthy as we want to believe, but the bottom line is that he needs to start playing better.

Poll

Who do you feel has the better day against the Packers?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Pass offense
    (114 votes)
  • 34%
    Rush offense
    (61 votes)
175 votes total Vote Now