The Saints (2-4) have won 13 consecutive prime-time games at home by an average of nearly 20 points per game. But now their struggling defense will go up against one of the hottest offenses in football, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception this season.
Here’s What 2 Watch 4:
Containing big plays: Green Bay’s offense seems like the worst possible matchup for a Saints defense that has struggled with too many assignment breakdowns and missed tackles. The Saints had their two worst performances against versatile offenses that stretched them thin (Atlanta in Week 1 and Dallas in Week 4).
In those games, the Saints were able to mute the big-play threats of receivers Julio Jones and Dez Bryant, respectively. But they got torn up in the middle of the field. Now they have to find a way to corral big-play receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and solid running back Eddie Lacy. They're among the NFL's best at gaining yards after contact. And worse yet, Rodgers has a great ability to scramble and keep plays alive until he can find a hole in the defense.
“I think as a defense, you gotta stop the explosive plays and you want to have 'em check the ball down, and that’s where tackling comes in,” said middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who has been the Saints’ best open-field tackler in a standout season that has gone under the radar because of the defense’s overall struggles. “You know, he checks the ball down and you stop 'em, it could go for a 3- or 4-yard gain. But you miss a tackle, it can go for 20 yards. And that can be an explosive play.
“So we’re definitely gonna have to be sound tackling. You know they’ve got weapons, you’re not gonna shut those guys down. But you’ve gotta make 'em earn everything, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Turnover mismatch: With two offenses as potent as Green Bay and New Orleans, turnovers become even more magnified. So it’s no coincidence that the Packers are thriving with the NFL’s best turnover ratio (plus-10), while the Saints have struggled with a ratio of minus-8.
Obviously it would be a huge equalizer for the Saints’ defense if they could force a turnover or two.
Just as importantly, though, the Saints can’t afford to give Green Bay any free possessions. Quarterback Drew Brees has thrown seven interceptions this season, including three that were poor decisions under pressure in the past two games. He needs to be a lot closer to perfect Sunday night. The Saints have also lost five fumbles this year.
“We have to find a way to win the turnover battle,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We have to make sure that that statistic is in our favor when the game is over.”
Trouble with the dismount: The Saints also have to make sure they play better at the end of the game after coughing up three leads in the final two minutes of regulation this season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints have the worst point differential in the NFL in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter this year (minus-24). They’ve allowed a league-high 34 points in that span. Last year, they allowed only 22 points all season in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
It’s not just the defense, though. The Saints have committed four turnovers in those final four minutes, tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the most in the league and twice as many as they had all last season.
Brees has also had uncharacteristic struggles late in games. During the fourth quarter and overtime this season, his yards per attempt (6.3) rank 25th in the NFL, his completion percentage (58 percent) ranks 21st and his Total QBR (58.3) ranks 15th. From 2006-2013, Brees ranked in the top four in all three categories in the fourth quarter and overtime.