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Keys to Success: Saints defense can’t eat the cheese vs. Packers

After playing immobile QBs the last 3 games, the Saints will get a different test against Green Bay.

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The Saints are marching into Lambeau Field on Sunday as the first team to face the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, and this unequivocally petrifies me. There’s not much film on Hundley that can give a good scouting report, and even worse - he’s mobile.

Well, so is Cam Newton right?

True, but he wasn’t when the Saints faced him in Carolina. They were still going through the motions of making Newton a pocket passer, and he only attempted to escape the pocket a handful of times.

Hundley, on the other hand, has the youth and wheels to break contain at will run, and I don’t believe the Saints defense has the 2nd level speed to contain him regularly.

The fact that Hundley can be used in this manner means that the Saints will undoubtedly have to play more zone than they’ve played during their three-game streak of competency on defense. The reason for this is you can’t risk Hundley taking off or breaking contain on a blitz and then all the DBs/LBs having their backs to him chasing their man.

Either this, or the Saints will use a spy, and the guy who did that in the Carolina game was Kenny Vaccaro, if I’m not mistaken. While I think he’s capable, it also means he plays the slot less and it opens a role up for someone else to play the slot, and maybe not as high of a level as Vaccaro.

Regardless, the Saints defense will have to show improvement in areas that plagued them early in the season, and the offense may need to put a little more weight on their shoulders to escape Lambeau with a win. Let’s take a look at a few keys below.

Don’t Underestimate McCarthy + Hundley

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For most teams, losing your star QB can be debilitating, to say the least. However, when you have an above average play caller, this can somewhat be mitigated by crafting a game plan that accentuates the backups abilities. I think Mike McCarthey is easily a top 10 play caller in the NFL, and I’m 100% confident in his abilities to do that. With that being said, Green Bay doesn’t have a ground game, so McCarthy has no real way of protecting Hundley. Meaning, he has to continue to call his offense the same way he would with Aaron Rodgers in the game.

Their defensive unit isn’t built to allow them to play small ball. So, while the scheme will likely be tweaked to take advantage of Hundley’s abilities, it won’t be so different that the Saints have to study for a different scheme. They should plan to be attacked in the same manner they would if Rodgers was in the game, because Hundley has a few of the same skills (mobility/arm) albeit at a lower level. I’ll be looking to see if the Saint’s technique in their match zone technique has improved. If it does, then you could see an uptick in their 3rd down defense.

Offensive 3rd down Woes

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I spoke about it in the “What We Learned” column, and it’s going to continue here. The Saints offense has a 3rd down conversion rate of just 37%. Meanwhile, the Packers defense is only allowing a 39% 3rd down conversion rate. One of these is going to remain true, and it could be a problem for the Saints.

If the Packers keep us at the Saints average or closer to theirs, it means that Dennis Allen’s defense will be on the field more than they need to be, and after playing roughly 80 snaps vs. Detroit, I don’t like that scenario. At some point, the turnovers will level out for the defense, and I don’t expect them to drop their 3rd down average below the 48% they are allowing - right now at least. That means the offense will need to help by extending drives as they continue to expand on their ability to play complimentary football. I’ll be looking to see if the offense will come alive and take advantage of a mangled Packers secondary.

Get the TEs more involved

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Sean Payton has got to find a way to make the TEs a threat. On one hand, I’m a proponent of focusing your offense around your best talents, but we’re not seeing the same level of involvement from other areas of the offense. Coby Fleener started off hot, and Michael Hoomanwanui had a TD last week, but Josh Hill has otherwise been a non-factor. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the purges on offense at the skill positions are starting to catch up and its showing up the most at TE right now. If Payton can get them involved in some way, then this game it will open up the rest of the offense.

While I think the Packers front 7 is good as a pass rush unit, I don’t think their LBs offer much in coverage, and they’ve had numerous injuries in the secondary- having just IR’d Quinten Rollins along with seeing starting nickel back Morgan Burnett designated out for this game. Coby Fleener is 3rd in snaps among Saints TEs, and while most will point to his start as evidence of improvement, it’s undeniable that the Saints missed on him in free agency. Yet and still, this feels like one of those games that you go “oh, there they are” and all is well again.

Player to Watch: Willie Snead, WR

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It is of my random opinion that a lot of the Saints’ issues on 3rd down are stemming from the unavailability of Snead. Brees made the comment, “He’s a big part of what we do,” on more than one occasion when referencing him. He’s the zone buster in the offense and does some of the same work that Colston/Moore were known for. Rev has mentioned that the Saints’ ability to convert 3rd and 1 has been a problem, and yet I feel like spread concepts are the team’s best bet there without a power back. Until Snead establishes himself in the offense, it will be hard to run that look and feel you have favorable matchups. The suspension and the hamstring are a clear reason for his rough start, and yet he’s got to step it up and quickly if he’s going to make amends with his season.

Random Thought: Motion can confuse this defense when they play in zone. Wonder if Hundley’s ability to escape the pocket coupled with communication errors will prove to be the defenses undoing.

This is the first game of the season I’m not exactly confident we can pull off. I feel like good offensive coordinators can cover up perceived weaknesses at the QB position by allowing a young guy to get into rhythm. It’s not like Brett Hundley is a rookie. He’s a talented 3rd year QB and has been groomed behind arguably the best QB in the league in Aaron Rodgers. If you want proof of what play callers can do for a QB, just look at what McCarthy was able to do with Aaron Brooks. Need something a little more recent? Then look no further than was Kyle Shanahan was able to do with RGIII his rookie year. The Saints will be in for a tough matchup this week. A loss won’t kill their momentum, but a win could cement them as one of the top teams in the league at this point in the season. Drop your thoughts/comments below and enjoy the game. Who Dat!