TiVo Time: New Orleans Saints
It’s time to battle that mid-week boredom with one last analysis of the Green Bay Packers’ opening night victory over the New Orleans Saints. I’ve gone through the tape play-by-play to give you the deepest look yet at all the biggest moments of the game.
Pregame: Jordan Sparks redeems divas singing the national anthem by getting it right and looking good while doing so.
Kickoff: Randall Cobb returns it from four yards deep and inauspiciously runs up the back of a blocker, going down at the 24.
12:43, 1st quarter: The Packers offense starts with the no huddle and the Saints defense starts with a rush three, drop eight philosophy. This is sort of like using a musket in a rifle fight. The Saints have their one opportunity to stop the drive when they sack Aaron Rodgers with a seven-man blitz to force a 3rd and 12. Other media sources would describe this as a seven-on-six blitz… inaccurately. Jerimichael Finley and James Starks were both in the backfield to block, making it seven-on-seven. The problem was Finley got tied up with Scott Wells’ guy and allowed Jonathan Casillas a free run to Rodgers. Making matters worse, Chad Clifton got cleanly beat by Turk McBride and only escaped giving up a sack by Casillas beating McBride to Rodgers.
Mysteriously, the Saints would go back to a three-man rush on 3rd and 12 and pay the price in giving up a 16-yard catch to Donald Driver. A couple plays later, Jordy Nelson would beat Patrick Robinson down the left sideline for 36 yards. On that play, the Saints sent seven against seven, and Casillas put a good hit on Rodgers again. Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from floating a perfect pass to Nelson before absorbing the hit.
10:08, 1st quarter: The Packers end their first drive of the season with a TD to Greg Jennings on 3rd down. Robinson was victimized again on the play, but it could have been Darrelle Revis in coverage and it wouldn’t have mattered. 7-0 Packers.
9:30, 1st quarter: Marques Colston turns an easy catch against zone into a Saints’ disaster by fumbling after a hit by Nick Collins. Packers ball at the 36. Mason Crosby’s first kickoff of the year is a touchback, and the Packers are loving the new kickoff rule.
3:05, 1st quarter: 14-0 Packers. Rodgers hits Nelson for a TD on 3rd down, against another three-man rush by the Saints. The Saints defense continues to be locked. Except for the two seven-man blitzes, which were poorly handled, the Packers offensive line has been solid in all phases, and with plenty of time, Rodgers has been near perfect.
5:00, 1st quarter: Darren Sproles gets 36 yards on a circle route to give the Saints some life. On 3rd and 6 from their 24, the Saints were a heart murmur away from a three-and-out when Clay Matthews cleanly beat their right tackle and crushed Drew Brees just as he was releasing the pass. Sproles faked the flat against A.J. Hawk and cut to the wide open middle of the field. Hawk trailed badly on the play, but there isn’t a linebacker in the league that can run with Sproles. Hawk needed to either stick Sproles at the line of scrimmage or back pedal until after Sproles made his cut and then take an angle.
3:31, 1st quarter: 14-7 Packers. The Saints take a page from the Packers’ playbook and go deep on 3rd and 1 from the 30. Tramon Williams is in trail position, baiting the throw, but that strategy backfires when Brees throws it far enough in front of Robert Meachem to beat Williams. Great pass.
0:11, 1st quarter: 21-7 Packers. The Packers take 3:20 to go 80 yards and put up another score with a 32-yard TD to Randall Cobb. The Saints tried mixing things up on this drive, but Rodgers is in a rhythm by now and simply threw quick passes against the blitz to Jennings and Finley. Cobb caught two passes on the drive, both from the slot against Roman Harper. On the TD, Harper and Tracy Porter appeared to be blitzing from the right. Rodgers saw the blitz coming and audibled causing the Saints to back off the blitz. As if he knew the audible, Harper plays Cobb to run the quick out, and he appears completely shocked when Cobb runs the wrong route and cuts inside right past him. The best part of the play is Cobb jukes Saints’ safety Malcolm Jenkins and dives into the end zone.
T.J. Lang already has two false starts, as if he caught that disease from Daryn Colledge before he left town. Otherwise, the line has played well, and Rodgers is like the fricking Terminator out there.
9:45, 2nd quarter: 21-10 Packers. The Saints execute a methodical drive that ends with a 30-yard field goal. The Packers defense actually played well this drive except for one run by Pierre Thomas where he broke about seven tackles. The Packers got to Brees several times, but he was able to just get rid of the ball, usually for good results. The defense was let down by Dom Capers, who called a three-man rush on the Packers’ best chance to get off the field — a 3rd and 14. To make matters worse, B.J. Raji looped to the outside, leaving a huge lane up the middle for Brees to find Devery Henderson for a 1st down.
On the 3rd down that forced the field goal — a 3rd and 4 –Brees mysteriously tried to force it in to Marques Colston instead of throwing it to the outside to Sproles. Charles Woodson has covered well all game and knocks the pass away.
8:37, 2nd quarter: The Packers finally go three and out and have to punt, which means they actually have to cover a punt. Tim Mastay outkicks his coverage and Sproles goes untouched for a TD to draw the Saints as close as they would ever get in this game at 21-17. Punt coverage needs a little work. Here is a good strategy: don’t have to punt.
Rodgers almost got Driver killed over the middle on the first play of the three and out. He had to get rid of the ball after McBride beat Clifton badly once again. Maybe the preseason wasn’t such an aberration after all. McBride isn’t exactly Julius Peppers or Trent Cole. The Packers foolishly ran against an eight-man front on 2nd down, for predictable results. On 3rd down, Rodgers and Nelson didn’t quite connect on another back shoulder throw.
4:32, 2nd quarter: Hahaha… probably my favorite play of the game. The Packers are driving again. This time with a nice mix of runs and passes. But, after a busted play that will remain an enigma, the Packers faced 2nd and 11 from the 42. They run a quick pass to Jennings at the line against the Saints best corner, Porter. Jennings jukes Porter, almost comically skips out of a tackle attempt by Roman Harper and gets 14 yards before the Saints finally corral him. Jennings is so underrated. I can count on one hand the players in this league that could have made that play.
2:00, 2nd quarter: 28-17 Packers. James Starks rolls his way to a 17-yard TD. Showcasing another weapon, the Packers run to their left this time, behind Lang and Clifton. Wells holds the nose long enough for Lang and Josh Sitton to get to the second level and neutralize the Saints linebackers. Starks does the rest by stepping over a diving Porter (not sure how he even saw Porter coming) and running over Harper, whose 1st half has been forgettable.
0:38, 2nd quarter: It’s a huge stop, as the Packers hold their 11-point lead, forcing the only Saints punt of the half. The Saints were driving again, mostly thanks to some passes against the zone and a swing pass to Sproles. The Saints try a screen to Sproles on 3rd and 10, but an inside blitz messes up the timing. Hawk gets held, but Jarius Wynn snuffed out the screen anyway.
8:40, 3rd quarter: 28-20 Packers. The Saints are forced to kick a 38-yard field goal after Erik Walden sacked Brees on 3rd and 2. The Saints had another long drive, greatly assisted by a couple long runs on 2nd and 10 by Mark Ingram and a dump to Thomas where he shrugged off Desmond Bishop and picked up 15 yards before a nice tackle by Morgan Burnett.
The Packers nearly shot themselves in the foot when Clay Matthews was called offsides on 3rd and 7 after Raji knocked a pass down. On 3rd and 2, Matthews leaped the fullback, who tried to cut him, and forced Brees to halt his roll out to the right. Unblocked from the opposite side, Walden took advantage for the sack.
8:26, 3rd quarter: 35-20 Packers. Cobb records the longest kickoff return in Packers history. By now everyone knows Cobb wasn’t supposed to return a kick that deep, but his scamper has to raise the question of whether he should always return it. After all, wouldn’t a couple starts from inside the 20 be worth the possibility of getting a big return now and again? Cobb, as a returner, is reminiscent of Desmond Howard. He doesn’t have electric speed, but he is tough to tackle and always runs north and south.
6:54, 3rd quarter: 35-27 Packers. So much for all the whining about the new kickoff rule. We get our second big return in row, as Sproles takes it straight up the middle and is run down at the Packers 45 by Sam Shields. Having saved the TD, Shields essentially gives it back by allowing a long completion to Colston on a square in, and then a 29-yard touchdown on a go route by Henderson. Shields looked like a quality corner for most of the game. On this play, he simply allowed Henderson to push him to the inside, and then Brees led the receiver with another perfect pass.
3:02, 3rd quarter: The Packers get their second biggest stop of the game when the Saints go for it on 4th and 1 from the Packers 7. The play was set up by Wynn making a great tackle for a short loss on 3rd and inches. On 4th down, the Saints went play action, but the Packers were ready for it and sitting in zone. Wynn broke into the backfield again and he and Clay Matthews chased Brees into a throw away.
The Saints had worked their way into position again mostly thanks to a bad punt by Masthay that was returned past midfield by Sproles. Again, the coverage unit needs some work.
This was also the drive where Woodson was flagged for throwing a punch. Yeah, I’m aware of what the rule book says, but in 30 years of watching football I’ve never seen a player ejected for punching someone in the gut. So, NO, the Packers weren’t lucky that he wasn’t ejected.
11:20, 4th quarter: 42-27 Packers. The Packers go 93 yards to take command of the game again. This drive is another mix of runs and passes. In fact, Starks, Ryan Grant, John Kuhn, Jennings, Nelson and Driver all get touches as Rodgers gets back on track and spreads it around. The biggest play of the drive was a ridiculous back shoulder throw and catch to Jennings for 22 yards. The Packers also converted several short yardage runs to keep the drive moving. It ends with an easy 1-yard TD run by Kuhn when Lang and Wells collapsed the left side of the line.
After a rare New Orleans three and out, where the Packers finally surprise Brees with a blitz on 3rd down and sack him, the Packers run nearly five minutes off the clock by running for a couple first downs. However, on 2nd and 9, the Packers go play action at the same time the Saints run a backside blitz and Rodgers gets sacked. Facing 3rd and long, Rodgers dumps it to James Jones for his only target of the night, and the Packers punt it away.
The Saints get the ball back with just over 5:30 left to play, down by two scores. From this point on, the Packers defense isn’t really trying to stop the Saints from scoring; they’re just trying to run the clock out.
2:20, 4th quarter: 42-34 Packers. The Saints do what they have to and score before the two minute warning. The Packers defense is actually mixing in some blitzes and staying aggressive, but Brees converts on a couple key plays, the biggest being a 20-yard dart to a well-covered Colston on 3rd and 10. The Saints score on 3rd down with a 5-yard pass to Jimmy Graham.
Packers final possession: For being all of three plays, there’s a lot to talk about here. First of all, great play by Driver to recover the onside kick. Secondly, Starks ran hard to gain six yards on the first two downs. On 3rd and 4, with the option to run or pass, the Packers call a play action pass that appears intended for Finley. However, the LB covering Finley grabs hold of him and keeps holding on as Finley tries to get upfield. Without that option, Rodgers wisely dumps it to Kuhn so that the clock can keep running.
Understandably, Mike McCarthy was furious with the officials who made no call on the play. Regardless, someone finally found a way to cover Finley — just hold his ass.
Lastly, Masthay failed the Packers again when asked to punt the ball inside the 20. If the Packers down the ball anywhere between the 10 and the goal line, it’s pretty much hopeless for the Saints, who have to go the distance in 1:08. Instead, he kicks it too close to the end zone, giving Jarrett Bush a very difficult play, and it ends up being a touchback.
Saints final drive: The Saints still had to go 80 yards in 1:08 with no timeouts. Even with a great QB, the odds are against them. They nearly pulled it off, partly thanks to some overly soft defense by the Packers, who backed off into a true prevent.
The Saints were able to complete consecutive 10-yard passes to the sideline, going 21 yards in 13 seconds on the first two plays of the series. The Packers needed to make a tackle in bounds on one of those plays.
The Packers were still in pretty good shape until Brees threw a nearly impossible pass to Colston to get the Saints down to the Green Bay 18-yard line. Woodson was in great position on the play, and Burnett and Collins had it bracketed. However, with a three-man rush giving Brees plenty of time, he showed the accuracy he’s known for by putting the ball where only Colston could get it. Colston made a diving catch and broke his collarbone in the process.
After a foolish dump pass to Sproles nearly ran out the clock, Brees had no choice but to take one last shot at the end zone. The pass interference call on Hawk was bogus, especially considering the call they didn’t make on the other end of the field. Fortunately, none of that mattered as the Saints try a dive up the middle on the final play of the game. The Packers had substituted their big package in with Howard Green, Ryan Pickett and Raji all on the line. Those three collapsed the offensive line at the 1, and Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett and Desmond Bishop all swarmed in to stuff Ingram.
At this point in the season, the only thing that matters is the W.
The Packers offense looked like everything we thought it would be. Weapons are everywhere. The offensive line should be a better unit than last year, as long as Clifton holds up. Most importantly, Aaron Rodgers is playing at a rare level right now: the kind of play that you only see from a Hall of Fame QB in his prime. He looked just as good as he did in the Super Bowl, and that’s almost impossible.
The Packers defense also has playmakers all over the field. They struggled with their tackling at times against the Saints, but I don’t believe Bishop or Hawk suddenly forgot how to tackle. The Packers pass rush is about the only thing I’me concerned about. However, in watching the tape a second time, you really see how quickly Brees got rid of the ball whenever the Packers did get after him. Clay Matthews was a half second away from a three-sack game. Certainly, getting Mike Neal and Vic So’oto back won’t hurt that department.
I’m not worried at all about the pass defense as long as Tramon Williams plays. Quarterbacks as good as Brees are going to throw for 400 yards when they’re behind by two scores for most the game and throw the ball 49 times. Brees also put on a rare display. There was good coverage on many of the big plays he completed.
Randall Cobb is obviously an immediate improvement to special teams. As for the coverage units, again, I recommend punting as little as possible.