Packers’ legitimacy to contend lays in New Orleans

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Green Bay has a very good chance to prove the team is not a pretender by winning over the Saints

Despite the Green Bay Packers going 13-3 last season, a common theme exposed them from being true championship contenders: not winning the big games.

Sure, the Pack were 8-2 at the midpoint of the season, and they looked like they were in full throttle to the playoffs. 

And then in the first game following their bye week, the Packers got spanked by the San Francisco 49ers on the national stage by a score of 37-8. Green Bay fell behind 23-0 at halftime and the game already felt like it was over at that point. The team played better in the second half, but the stat sheet was a total mismatch. The Packers put up just 198 yards of total offense, gained an average of about just 2.8 yards per play, and converted on six percent of their third downs. The 49ers meanwhile posted 339 yards of total offense, 7.5 yards per play, and converted on a third of their 3rd downs.

No Green Bay player looked like themselves, either. But a lot of the credit goes to San Francisco’s terrific defense. Aaron Rodgers threw for 104 yards on 20 completions — about 5.2 yards per completion — and a touchdown. Aaron Jones wasn’t even the leading rusher. Jamaal Williams was. And Davante Adams had a pure ordinary seven catches for 43 yards with a touchdown. The Packers’ three most important players failed to deliver in a big game. On top of everything, the defense could not get off the field. 

The story in the NFC Championship Game was a little different, but the ultimate result was the same: a loss. This time it was 37-20. Rodgers, Jones and Adams all played much better, but the defense once again let the Packers down in a huge game. Jimmy Garappolo threw the ball eight times (yes, eight). Why? Because Green Bay had arguably the worst rushing defense performance in the history of the NFL playoffs. Raheem Mostert, who alone ran for 229 yards on the ground on 29 carries and four touchdowns, put up more points than the Packers themselves. San Francisco led 34-7 heading into the fourth quarter, so the bulk of Green Bay’s points came when it really didn’t matter anyway. The Packers once again just could not get over the hump, and this time it sent them home packing.

Flash forward to Week 3 in the 2020 season, and the Packers are cruising to start off the year. It’s not even the fact that they’re 2-0. It’s how they’ve won their first two.

Green Bay surprised almost everybody in the opener in Minnesota by scoring 43 points. Aaron Rodgers tore apart a Vikings defense that gave him trouble for years. He displayed a vintage performance with 32 completions on 44 attempts for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Davante Adams tied Don Hudson’s record for receptions in a game with a remarkable 14, and on top of that caught for 156 yards and two touchdowns. All of this totaled to 522 yards of offense. Granted Green Bay allowed 34 points on D, but the offense was just too good. Also when a team holds the ball for nearly 42 minutes, that team in all likelihood wins it. That was Green Bay’s story at U.S. Bank Stadium. 

The Packers followed up their win from Minnesota nicely against Detroit by once again showing off their new-and-improved offense under Matt LaFleur. This time it was Aaron Jones who put on quite the show. On just 18 carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns, the Lions had no answer for Green Bay’s run game. Tack on an additional 240 passing yards and two touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers, and folks you have a 42-21 blowout win.

Green Bay leads the NFL in total yards per game with 505. The 36-year-old Rodgers is looking like he’s 26. The running game is stacked. And for the first time in a while, the team looks more dynamic than ever.

But none of this will matter as much if they can’t get over the hump against the Saints. New Orleans, another team destined for a deep playoff run, has given the Packers all sorts of trouble in the Superdome for a quarter of a century. The last time Green Bay defeated the Saints in New Orleans was in 1995, not to mention an embarrassing 44-23 loss in primetime in 2014. The Packers last defeated New Orleans all the way back in 2012 at Lambeau Field. Under Sean Payton and Drew Brees, the Saints hold a 4-2 advantage over the Packers, so they’ve had their number for the most part.

Now, what do the Packers have to do to finally earn their first victory in the Superdome in 25 years? Stick with the game plan. Try to get the running game going, and if that works, that’s a big advantage already with one of the league’s best running backs lurking behind Rodgers. If the running game doesn’t work, let Rodgers do whatever he wants. Even though Davante Adams likely won’t play because of a sore hamstring, Rodgers will have all sorts of time in the pocket. He’s a master switching up plays and making them work. The offensive line has been terrific this year, giving up just one sack in two games. Green Bay’s defense will probably give up some points like they usually do, but if they play well enough, the Packers should be in good shape. 

To make ends meet, the Saints will not have Michael Thomas — arguably the NFL’s top wideout — for Sunday night due to an injury. One can assume Alvin Kamara will get plenty of opportunities, and Sean Payton is going to throw Mike Pettine’s defense several different looks, especially when Taysom Hill is quarterback. They are a tough offense to stop, with or without Thomas. Let’s not forget New Orleans has some weapons on defense, including Marcus Davenport, Malcolm Jenkins and Janoris Jenkins. 

The Packers look good so far. Even though the Saints aren’t playing particularly well, they still are no joke. Green Bay looks to be on a mission up to this point. But beating New Orleans in the Superdome in this big game could be a sign the Packers are finally over the hump and truly ready to contend. 

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