The last quarterback the NFL’s lowest-ranked defense should want to face next?
But if the New Orleans Saints are going to rise from the league basement, finding a way to stymie the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player is a must in Sunday’s game at Green Bay (4:25 p.m. ET kickoff, FOX).
Among the biggest reasons for the Saints’ 0-3 start is a defense bombing on all levels. New Orleans has allowed at least 27 points in all three outings. The opposition is clocking an average possession time of 35:25, limiting the chances for the Saints’ normally high-powered offense to get in sync.
The unit hit rock bottom in last Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to visiting Kansas City. The Saints squandered an 18-point second-half lead as Jamaal Charles rushed for a staggering 233 yards and added 55 more yards on another six catches.
If Charles invoked memories of Jim Brown, there’s a reason. That Hall of Fame running back is the only other player who has ever achieved such a statistical milestone in one game.
The Saints also have gotten sliced apart by three opposing quarterbacks (Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel) who are nowhere near the same level of passer as Rodgers. The Griffin-Newton-Cassel trio posted a collective quarterback rating of 101.2 with a gaudy average of 9.12 yards per completion.
Some of these problems may be attributed to growing pains being suffered while adjusting to the system installed by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. In particular, Saints strong safety Roman Harper points to the unit’s third-down performance. The conversion rate of 37.8 percent is tied for 18th in the NFL.
“We haven’t been able to get off the field in longer third-down situations,” Harper told FOXSports.com. “That’s prolonging drives. When you’re out there on the field more, you’re going to give up more yards. We have not been stout enough in our run fits at times.”
The only encouraging sign for New Orleans’ defense entering Sunday’s game is the fact Green Bay’s offense also isn’t performing at a high level. Normally among the league leaders in production, the Packers rank 25th in total yardage. Green Bay also is coming off an uneven effort in Monday night’s 14-12 loss at Seattle in which Rodgers was sacked eight times – seven of which came in the first half – and Cedric Benson was limited to 2.6 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Harper believes a combination of factors is slowing down the Packers, but he also knows that Rodgers still has one of “the top two or three arms in the league.”
“Sometimes, things like that happen,” Harper said of Green bay’s struggles. “Not every quarterback is going to be perfect every game. You could put on pressure, the receivers, different defensive schemes … Everything comes into effect.”
The Saints will be doing everything possible to avoid an 0-4 start that would almost certainly doom their playoff hopes in the first month of the season. While an improved comfort level with Spagnuolo’s concepts should result in better play, Harper believes the problems run deeper.
“We have to come out with a better defensive attitude where we’re going to really come out there and knock some people out,” said Harper, who ranks second on the Saints in tackles with 25. “So what about fitting and thinking? Take all that out of the book and just go play defense like we’re in the backyard. That’s where you just line up, whup the guy in front of you and find the ball.
“We’ve got to do more of that. When we do that, everything will be fine.”