NFL Preview - Green Bay (5-2) at New Orleans (2-4)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Something has to give in New Orleans on Sunday night and the struggling Saints are hoping it's not their dwindling playoff hopes.
Most observers considered New Orleans a legitimate Super Bowl contender at the beginning of this season but an all too familiar pattern has emerged -- the Saints simply can't win on the road.
The good news is that the NFC South as a whole has been poor this season and despite a 2-4 record -- including an 0-4 mark away from the Bayou -- New Orleans is just one game behind division-leading Carolina in the loss column pending a Week 8 matchup with Aaron Rodgers and the 5-2 Green Bay Packers.
The Saints are banking on a return to the Superdome to get them back on track. New Orleans is 2-0 at home this season and has won 10 straight overall as the hosts but the triumphs in 2014 were against less than stellar opposition -- Minnesota and Tampa Bay -- and the Saints needed overtime before disposing of the 1-5 Bucs back on Oct. 5
"They are better than that," Rodgers said when discussing NOLA's record. "They are 2-0 at home I believe. They are better at home. They have lost some close games. (They have a) very talented offense, a very talented defense and (are) very well coached."
The Packers, meanwhile, have won four straight after a rocky start behind Rodgers, a legitimate MVP candidate who has 13 TD passes with no interceptions along with a a stunning 137.9 passer rating during Green Bay's current winning streak.
A-Rod also generally excels indoors, having started 23 games under a roof in his career with 56 TD passes versus only eight interceptions in those games.
Rodgers extended another historic streak last week as the Packers continued their dominance in the month of October with a 38-17 shellacking of the Panthers.
Rodgers completed 19-of-22 passes for 255 yards and three scores, joining Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with four straight games of three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Rodgers, who hasn't been intercepted since Week 1 in Seattle, also extended a personal-best streak to 192 pass attempts without a pick.
Randall Cobb caught six passes for 121 yards and a touchdown, and Jordy Nelson made four catches for 80 yards and a score against Carolina.
The Packers have now won 10 straight games in October and 16 of their last 17.
"I thought the quarterback play was outstanding and I thought, really, offensively, we did exactly what we wanted to do," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Conversely the Saints are coming off their latest road implosion when Corey Fuller's touchdown catch inside of two minutes to play capped a late Detroit comeback to give the Lions a 24-23 win over the New Orleans.
Matthew Stafford struggled for much of the game, but led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives for Detroit and finished 27-of-40 for 299 yards with two scoring passes and two interceptions.
Drew Brees went 28-for-45 for 342 yards with two touchdowns and a key interception late in the game for the Saints, while Marques Colston had six catches for 111 yards and Kenny Stills added five receptions for 103 yards and a score in the loss.
"We had opportunities down the stretch to win the game and we didn't do it," said New Orleans head coach Sean Payton."
Brees played particularly poorly in the fourth quarter, completing just 2- of-13 passes.
"Obviously we had a little bit more pressure, some man-to-man (coverage)," Payton said. "A few of those throw always that were smart plays and yet we had a couple of opportunities in there maybe to fit in there a throw. Those percentages they include that last drive where all of a sudden you're hoping to make a few plays but for two thirds of the game we were operating with the rhythm and efficiency we wanted. We'll get better at that."
The Packers have won two straight over the Saints and lead the all-time series by a 16-7 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Saints have actually been as explosive as ever offensively and are tops in the NFC with 437.0 yards per game, far ahead of Green Bay (325.4 YPG), a team which is also generally regarded as one of the best offensive units around.
Brees in second in the conference with 1,916 passing yards but the issue has been ball security and New Orleans has a minus-eight turnover ratio, a stark contrast to the Packers' NFL-best plus-10 mark.
"It's been a staple of how we play around the here the past couple of years, taking care of the football and being in the positive," Rodgers said. "Mike (McCarthy) always talks about getting to double-digit turnover margin and we just there this week with plus-10. When you are taking care of the football like that than you give your football team a chance to win. Offensively we know that if we take care of it and we turn our defense's turnovers into points we are going to have a chance to win."
For New Orleans, Brees has been pressing at times and trying to force the issue, a troubling turn for a veteran quarterback who should know better.
"I don't (think he's pressing)," Payton said. "Obviously people want to have the one interception back (against the Lions) but I felt like his decision- making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding and he's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."
Rodgers, who is tops in the NFC in both TD passes (18) and passer rating (117.3), hasn't thrown a pick since Week 1 and is approaching 200 attempts without a pick. He's particularly adept at extending plays and getting the ball down field to Nelson, who leads the conference with 712 receiving yards.
Furthermore, Rodgers has been doing all of that without the benefit of a consistent running game as second-year back Eddie Lacy has been in a bit of a sophomore slump, save for one effort against Minnesota.
The real story in this game, however, should be the defenses which are very identical statistically. Green Bay is allowing 362.7 ypg and the Saints have been 11 yards worse. Each team hasn't been able to develop a consistent pass rush, though, despite having big name players on the edge.
Veteran Julius Peppers along with Nick Perry lead the Packers' stop unit with three sacks apiece but veteran All-Pro rusher Clay Matthews has just 1 1/2.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan thought he could count on a dual threat in Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan but only Galette has produced at times with four sacks.
"I have a lot of respect for them and their defense," Rodgers said. "Talented group, they play really well at home, they put up a lot of points. You have to be expecting Drew (Brees) and those guys to be scoring points so we need to score touchdowns in the red zone and score some points ourselves."
Each defense will come in with a similar game plan, trying to get the QB off his spots and away from a comfort level. When they are clean and secure in the knowledge that the pass protection is going to hold up, both Brees and Rodgers can pick any defense apart, especially on a fast track indoors.
"It is a fast surface. They obviously play faster at home," Rodgers said when talking about the Superdome. "It is a really, really loud environment. Obviously Drew has had a lot of success there, (and) put up a lot of points there. Their offense has very high scoring potential. Defensively, every time you have a crowd that can back you with some noise it makes it a lot more difficult for the offense."
The difference in what figures to be a shootout should be desperation and that points toward the Saints.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 37, Packers 33
10/26 07:18:04 ET