Friday, October 24, 2014

Preview: Saints Host The Packers Sunday Night

Playing the Saints in their dome is a tough game for any team, and the Packers are going to have to perform well to win. The good news is that the Packers have been playing almost mistake-free football during their four game winning streak.
Being down two starting defensive backs, CB Sam Shields and probably SS Morgan Burnett to a calf injury, is never a good thing when preparing to face QB Drew Brees. But the Saints might not get much from TE Jimmy Graham, who is playing through a shoulder injury, so their passing attack isn't at 100%.

Rookie S Ha Ha Clinton Dix might receive his first career start in place of Burnett, but he was going to play a lot anyway in the nickel package. I'd also expect to see a lot of SS Sean Richardson, who plays a similar role to what they've asked Burnett to play this season; closer to the line of scrimmage. Shields's absence will give additional snaps to CB Casey Hayward, who I want to see more of anyway. At least for this week, the loss of Shields and/or Burnett shouldn't be a problem.

Here are the current rankings from Football Outsiders:
Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense
Packers 4 7 6 22
Saints 15 2 30 16

I'm not too comforted by the 15th overall ranking for the Saints's pass offense. While they're missing a healthy version of Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees is still the same old Drew Brees, at least according to his current ESPN QBR compared to previous seasons. Since the Packers's have struggled stopping the run, the Saints's running game is looking like a big problem. If they can't stop the run, Dom Capers would have to make some adjustments that could open up the passing game.

However, the Saints's running attack is not at 100% either. The Saints could be without RBs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, and starting C Jonathan Goodwin, none of which would help them run the ball. In any case, the Packers are facing an injured Saints's offense that could be slowed down on Sunday.

The key to the game is the Packers's passing offense. The offense is on a role, and being compared to QB Aaron Rodgers's 2011 MVP season. Even if the Saints can move the ball and score on the Packers, it's even less certain that the Saints can stop them at all. Their 30th ranked pass defense is trending down in recent weeks, while the Packers's 4th ranked pass offense has been moving upwards.

Packers 38, Saints 20.

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