3 Keys to the Game: Packers vs. Saints

In years past, the Packers and Saints have been a marquee matchup between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Often, the games have been entertaining and high scoring affairs. In Week One of 2021, the Saints were playing in their first regular season game without Drew Brees on the roster and it seemed the Packers were ready to make up for a heartbreaking end to their season the year prior and come firing out of the gates. Saints: 38 Packers: 3 – Final. 

  A game that left analysts around the country asking if the Packers should be worried and if the Saints were better off with Winston than Brees. Week One is typically a wild one but this game was an anomaly on all accounts. Rodgers threw for 133 yards, zero touchdowns and two picks. Jameis Winston threw for a whopping 148 yards, FIVE touchdowns and zero picks. The Packers ran for 43 total yards throughout the game, no doubt due to the fact they trailed the entire game, but 43 nonetheless. With the offseason drama that preceded this game, it makes a bit more sense that the offense was out of sorts and the defense wasn’t ready having played against Jordan Love and Kirk Benkurt all season (love them both). While this game may not count on the record, it does carry some heavy implications and will be a great test against a really good defense and specifically, a great secondary. More than a few components will go into the game but below will be the most important three knowing what we know now. 

1: Young Receivers Stepping Up
  The talk of camp this week has been Rodgers ripping into the young receiver core and the “simple mistakes” that are being made. (Future All-Pro) Romeo Doubs has, for the most part, been excellent throughout the summer but dropped a deep touchdown pass down from Rodgers in the scrimmage Wednesday. Receivers running incorrect routes led to a Jordan Love pick against the 49ers on Saturday. Rodgers emphasized the fact that if these issues weren’t fixed, opportunities/snaps would simply not be given to those continuing to misstep. 

  I expect the young receivers to look far more sharp tonight and let their quarterback know that his voice is heard and they want to meet the standard in place in Green Bay. Look for Doubs to build off his 3/45/1 statline from Saturday and be sure to secure the ball before thinking about what’s going to happen next. Two other names to watch are Samori Toure, who is a bubble player to make the team but has shown he has the skills and knowledge to succeed at this level, and Juwann Winfree, who is also a bubble player that has consistently shown he deserves a shot to make the 53. 

2: The Offensive Line Holds its Own
  It’s no secret that the Packers offensive line is far from where the front office, team, and fanbase would like it to be. Elgton Jenkins returning to practice was enormous. Hopefully, Bahktiari can get healthy and see some game time this year. Lots of question marks. But as they say, the games will go on. I’m sure we’ll see a plethora of combinations on the front tonight but there are a few players to watch and note how they look, as there’s a realistic chance they see heavy snaps early in the season. 

  Zach Tom 

  Tom has taken snaps with both units and touched almost every position except center (more so due to the fact that Josh Myers has looked amazing and Hanson will be the backup). He was listed as a versatile tackle who may be able to contribute after a bit of development, primarily getting stronger in his legs. While he hasn’t looked out of place yet, he’s looked far from that of a NFL starter – unless he was drafted by the Bears – and needs to showcase that these preseason games and scrimmages have accelerated his development and gotten him closer to playing at NFL speed. Watch where he lines up and how he performs tonight. 

  Jake Hanson 

  Hanson’s second year in the league will be a big one, as he has been running with the first-team offense at right guard for the majority of camp. While he’s had his ups and downs, the Packers believe he could be the replacement for Lucas Patrick and be a versatile interior lineman for years to come. Here’s an article from one of my favorite Packers writers, Zach Kruse , covering what Adam Stenavich had to say about Hanson and how they view him to be a part of the offense this year. If he can clean up his play from a penalty perspective and take note of what has helped Jenkins and those before him become key contributors, the Packers will have added yet another versatile lineman that can shift around the formation when needed. 

  Caleb Jones 

  An undrafted free agent, Jones stands at 6’9” and weighs in at 370 pounds. In other words, a simply massive human. Coming out of Indiana, he was deemed to be a developmental player who excelled in the run game but had a lot of ground to make up in the pass. He allowed 7 sacks and 32 pressures – overview notes/statistics provided via Paul Bretl. He’s had a great camp and is now taking snaps with the 2nd team offense at right tackle. Yosh Nijam was a very similar prospect coming out of college and did extremely well last year, so the Packers may know what they’re doing with these large, raw prospects. Keep an eye out for him tonight. 

  Bonus: Sean Rhyan – 3rd round pick – 6’4”, 320. Looked solid against the 49ers and can play almost anywhere on the line. Will likely develop this year but could start if someone gets hurt/underperforms.

3: The Defense Continues to Impress
The Packers defense has been tormenting the Saints offense this week. The pass rush and pass coverage has been superb, especially considering the Saints trio consists of a healthy Michael Thomas, rejunivanted Jarvis Landry and the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft, Chris Olave. The offense, while lacking what most would call a “franchise QB”, has a handful of playmakers that the Packers have done a great job of mitigating. Multiple players have said they’re looking to be the best defense in the league, a huge step for a team that over the last decade has watched their defense consistently let them down when needed most. If the defense, specifically the younger depth players, can elevate their play and give the coaching staff some faith that they can handle whatever situation they’re needed in, this defense could be scary. 

  Name to Watch: Kingsley Enagbare

Enagbare had a slow start to camp, failing to make much of an impression and move up the depth chart through OTA’s or RMC. His play the last two weeks has completely flipped that narrative. After logging a sack and two QB hits against the 49er’s, Enagbare had a great week of practice while scrimmaging the Saints. The Packers are still in the process of deciding who their 3rd edge rusher will be but Enagbare has been doing his best to make that decision for them. If he can follow up the past week with another solid performance, the fifth rounder may find himself seeing consistent minutes on a defense prepared to take the next step. 

  The Packers should come out hungry after losing to the 49ers last week but as we’ve seen, nothing is guaranteed in this league. I expect the Pack to be aggressive and really let their prospective playmakers do all they can by not limiting them with schematics. As for a final score prediction? Packers: 38 – Saints: 3

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