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How the Saints’ running offense fares against the Packers’ running defense

The Saints’ running game has gotten off to a slow start, but they have a chance to rectify it against the Packers

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints may be heading into their Week 3 matchup against the Green Bay Packers as slight favorites according to oddsmakers, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The Saints lost to the Las Vegas Raiders on a national stage in Week 2 in an anemic performance, and now they’re going up against one of the early season’s hottest teams in another primetime showdown.

Running the ball has, surprisingly, been an issue for the Saints early on. They’re 26th in the league in rushing at this way-too-early juncture, and after a hot start for Alvin Kamara in Week 2 they appeared to move away from him later in the game. The result was a lot of passing. Exactly two-thirds of their offensive plays were through the air against the Raiders, a far cry from Week 1, when they passed slightly under 50 percent of the time.

The Saints can return to form in Week 3 against the Packers, who have given up about 111 yards per game through the first two weeks. The key, of course, will be feeding Kamara and sticking with him while mixing in a good dose of Latavius Murray.

The main defensive player the Saints will need to key in on will be Christian Kirksey, a free agency pickup from the Cleveland Browns. Kirksey looks like he’s returned to his 2016 and 2017 form, in which he logged 148 and 138 tackles, respectively. He has 24 tackles through the first two weeks of the season, and his gap discipline is among the most impressive in the league among linebackers.

He’s a terrific fit for a Packers defense that prides itself on discipline. However, they’re still somewhat susceptible to methodical drives. The Packers are in the lower echelon of yards allowed per play, hovering around 6.4. The Saints can exploit that, and keep the ever-dangerous Aaron Rodgers off the field if they can be consistent and not have drives stall like they did against the Raiders.

The Packers’ front has a few heavy hitters to be mindful of. Rashaun Gary is off to an impressive start, while Za’Darius Smith has also been impactful in his own right. The Packers’ success is largely dependent on the push up front, and the status of nose tackle Kenny Clark will be a large part of that equation.

As of Thursday, Clark is listed as questionable for the Packers. If the NT misses his second straight game, the Saints could certainly capitalize on his absence.

Though the offensive line didn’t have its best game on Monday, the good news is that none of the Saints’ front five have made appearances on the Week 3 injury report outside of Terron Armstead, who is a mainstay on the report but tends to play all the same.

Andrus Peat and Nick Easton battled injuries on Monday, but they both appear ready to play. Cesar Ruiz may end up getting more snaps, but he seems to be getting eased into the Saints’ front and Sean Payton appears to not be in any kind of rush to get him reps.

The Saints have a chance to regain their footing against a team that is thought to be one of the best in the NFC. Obviously at the NFC Championship Game last year, the San Francisco 49ers ran all over the Packers. The Saints know that grinding the Packers down is part of the blueprint to beat them, but that’s easier said than done.

New Orleans needs to jump out early and keep the running game consistent for 60 minutes on Sunday. If they move away from that part of their game, they start to falter. The Packers are an offense you can only beat by keeping them off the field. The Saints have to do so if they’re going to bounce back from a brutal Week 2 loss.