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NFL Preview - New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Twitter machine produced more expletives after Monday night's debacle with the replacement referees that would make Andrew Dice Clay look like Mister Rogers.
Several swears came from the fingers of some Green Bay Packers players, who were robbed of a win in a 14-12 setback at Seattle. The Packers will have to grin and bear it when they return to historic Lambeau Field for Sunday's anticipated showdown with Drew Brees and the winless New Orleans Saints.
Green Bay thought it had an interception and its second win of the season when it appeared defensive back M.D. Jennings wrestled a Russell Wilson pass away from Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate in the final moments. Replays clearly showed Tate pushing off a Packers defender and Jennings landing with the ball clutched to his chest. However, officials ruled it a touchdown and social media websites exploded with various rants and opinions.
"Got f-- by the refs," Packers guard T.J. Lang tweeted. "Embarrassing. Thanks NFL."
The NFL released a statement on the issue and confirmed that Tate should have been penalized for offensive pass interference. But either way, the Packers have to turn the page and keep their focus toward the 0-3 Saints.
Defensive tackle B.J. Raji is hoping he and his teammates can move on.
"We've been through a lot, we've won a lot of games, won a championship," Raji said. "The guys with the veteran leadership, this is their time to step up and rally each other to stay together and just keep fighting."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said he loves emotion from his players as long as it's "channeled properly." In most cases anger is not conducive with winning and McCarthy feels the team is focused on the Saints. The Packers have no other choice but to stay the course or else they'll fall further behind in both the NFC North and conference. While Monday's loss could haunt them down the road, it's situations such as these that build character.
New Orleans knows a thing or two about the NFL coming down hard and just has to look at the sanctions brought on by "Bounty Gate."
Brees got his fingers going via Twitter after Monday night's game.
"Ironic that our league punishes those based on conduct detrimental. Whose CONDUCT is DETRIMENTAL now?"
The Saints have their own issues to deal with and are trying to avoid the first 0-4 start since 2007, when they finished 7-9. They suffered a tough 27-24 overtime loss versus Kansas City last week at the Superdome and blew a 24-6 advantage. The defense broke down completely and was torched for 510 yards, including 273 on the ground. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles carried the ball 33 times for 233 yards and a 91-yard score.
"They did a good job in the running game of creating some big runs," Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. "We are disappointed, but we realize that the only people that are going to address this is us. We are not going to back down. We are not going to point fingers. We are going to band together. We are going to come out fighting. That's all we know how to do as professionals. This is how we grow together."
New Orleans must get back to the offensive roots that catapulted the team to greatness over the past few years. And that starts with Brees, who has seven touchdown passes to five interceptions this season. Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 46 straight games and can tie Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas' record of 47 consecutive games with a scoring strike on Sunday.
The Saints have lost four in a row dating back to last year's playoff loss at San Francisco.
New Orleans and Green Bay are meeting for the fifth time in eight seasons after having met only once in the previous nine years. The Packers defeated the Saints, 42-34, in last year's season opener for both teams. They also hold a 15-7 edge against the Saints in the all-time series, including a 9-2 mark in games played at Lambeau Field.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Brees (904 yards, 7 TD, 5 INT) said the reason for the drop-off in the passing game is "everybody's ability to just do things a little bit better." He added that it hasn't been as crisp as it normally has been and with more reps in practice and better execution it will come back. Brees has made four career starts against the Packers, racking up 1,458 yards with 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions for a 110.3 passer rating. Of course, Brees could tie Unitas' record of 47 straight games with a TD pass and reflected on that.
"When you say that name Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, certainly his accomplishments speak for themselves and one of the pioneers of this game, to even be in the realm of a record that he's held for a long time, it's an honor. It's humbling."
The Saints are sixth in passing with 284.7 yards per game and could use a boost from the running backs since Green Bay is No. 1 against the pass. New Orleans is 22nd in rushing, while the Packers are rated 26th in rush defense, allowing 135.7 yards per game. Pierre Thomas (138 yards), Mark Ingram (79 yards, TD) and Darren Sproles (62 yards) will all get touches on Sunday. In fact, Sproles leads the Saints with 18 receptions. Tight end Jimmy Graham (172 yards, 3 TD) will be a handful for Green Bay and is Brees' favorite target. He has a touchdown reception in six straight games.
It will be tough for New Orleans to pick at Green Bay's No. 1 rated pass defense that is allowing just 125.3 yards per game over the first three weeks. This marks the first time the Packers have led the league in passing defense at any point in the season since finishing the 2005 campaign ranked No. 1. Cornerback Tramon Williams (10 tackles, 2 sacks) already has a pair of interceptions, while veteran safety Charles Woodson (13 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) brings his defensive prowess into this one.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit has allowed opponents to convert just nine of a possible 35 opportunities on third down in the opening three contests, ranking third in the league. The Packers allowed the Seahawks to convert just two of 11 third-down opportunities on Monday night. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews (13 tackles, 6 sacks) did not have a sack against Seattle, but leads the league in that category. Matthews and the defense has to keep Brees unsettled in the pocket if they want a chance for a win.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Aaron Rodgers (745 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) has led the Packers to 20 wins in the past 22 at home and looks to add to that impressive number. He'll need some more protection since he's been sacked at least three times in every game and 16 times total. In the last meeting with New Orleans, Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three scores on 27-of-35 passing and became just the second QB in NFL history to throw three TD passes in the first quarter of a season opener.
Green Bay's offense has seen better days, as it is only 20th in passing (226.0), 25th in total yards (304.3), 26th in points scored (19.0) and 28th in rushing (78.3). Wide receiver Greg Jennings (69 yards) is off to a slow start and returned from injury in Monday's game. It would be a good time for Rodgers and Jennings to rekindle their connection. Rodgers touched on New Orleans' struggling defense in a conference all.
"They have a lot of talented players. They have a new scheme, so every week they're going to be a little more comfortable," Rodgers said. "When you look at the talent on the defense, we expect them to play well every week. We're not taking them lightly at all."
Now would be a good time for Cedric Benson to start hitting the holes. Benson (144 yards, TD) has been slow out of the gate in his first year with the Packers and could learn a thing or two by watching last week's film on Charles and the Chiefs. Green Bay is averaging less than 80 rushing yards a game and has to work on that Sunday.
New Orleans has arguably the worst defense in the NFL and that wouldn't even be an issue if the offense moved the ball like it used to. Linebacker Scott Shanle (9 tackles, 1/2 sack) reiterated that in his post-game interview.
"There's been plenty games around here where the defense hasn't played well and the offense has put up 40-plus points," Shanle said. "Games have different ebbs and flows. Today was our day to rise to the challenge and we just didn't do that."
Leading tackler and linebacker Curtis Lofton (32 tackles) led the way with 13 stops against the Chiefs and had two of the team's 10 passes defensed. Cornerback Patrick Robinson (14 tackles, sack) had three tipped passes and faces a Rodgers-led offense that is trying to regain its dominant form. Greer (6 tackles, INT) has the only interception for the defense and will be busy covering Green Bay's speedy wideouts. The Saints are 25th against the pass (262.3), 30th in points allowed (34.0) and last in rushing (215.0) and yards allowed (477.3).
The Saints should take a defensive note from the Seahawks, who badgered Green Bay's offensive line and sacked Rodgers eight times. Chris Clemons had four of those sacks. Saints DE Junior Galette (5 tackles, 2 sacks) got to Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel twice last week.
Rodgers and Brees will be happy to know that the full-time referees will be back, starting with Thursday's showdown between Baltimore and Cleveland. The two Super Bowl-winning QBs and friends have opined on the replacement officials and should have a sense of comfort knowing that the game will be handled by experienced personnel. But the outcome of Sunday's game will not boil down to what the men in stripes do, but rather how each offense performs.
The Packers have the edge in this one for three reasons: they're at Lambeau Field, have the best pass defense in the league and are holding opposing offenses to just 261.0 yards per game. Even if New Orleans tightens up on defense, the Packers will find a way to win. As previously stated, it's time for Jennings and Benson to take some of the load off of Rodgers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, Saints 20
09/27 15:44:04 ET