NFL's opening night preview
What an excellent matchup between the last two Super Bowl champions that could be a prelude to the NFC Championship game in 2011. Both clubs endured this unique offseason with three main factors intact: consistency in coaching, consistency in the quarterback position and veteran balance.
New Orleans has re-established its chances to duplicate its 2009 winning formula with a solid stable of running backs: Pierre Thomas, first-round draft pick Mark Ingram and free agent acquisition Darren Sproles. While I expect Ingram to get the majority of the carries in the red zone and on the goal line, he and Thomas both will provide that physical one-two punch that can eventually wear down defensive fronts. Sproles’ presence will be reminiscent of his role behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner with the Chargers. Sproles will pick up the slack left behind by Reggie Bush, and the Saints will not feel pressured to use him out of turn.
Defensively, the Saints need to combine last year's overall improved numbers with the takeways they tallied in 2009. If they are going to stay with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ talented receiving corps, they will need to play opportunistically and steal the ball away from that high-powered offense.
The addition of Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers should be enough to stifle the Packers' running game, and therefore I wouldn’t expect much out of either Ryan Grant or James Starks. The lack of running game shouldn’t have a major impact on the overall strategy of the Green Bay offense, as it became accustomed to that last year.
New Orleans tends to dial up pressure to harass the quarterback, but Aaron Rodgers ranked second in the NFL last season in efficiency against the blitz. If the Saints’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, sticks to his blitz-happy defense, he may find his unit being picked apart.
The Packers were not very active in the free-agency market, but that’s only because they didn’t need to be. All they needed to do was to get healthy, and they did. Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Brad Jones, Desmond Bishop are just a few players they return to the active roster, but the list goes on.
It is unfathomable what the addition of Finley will add to the third-ranked passing attack from last year. I look for him to have a huge impact on Thursday night and expect him to be the most targeted receiver in the game.
On the other side, the Saints have also found themselves with a very talented tight end in Jimmy Graham. Graham is an athletic pass catcher who shows outstanding body control and positioning when attacking the ball in the air. His matchup against the Packers leans heavily in favor of Drew Brees, and I anticipate that Graham should have just as big of an impact for the Saints as Finley will for the Packers.
All in all, I love what the Saints have done this offseason, and they will have a big chip on their shoulder after that embarrassing exit from the playoffs last year.
Unfortunately, Lambeau Field is a tough venue to start the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Packers not taking care of business at home.