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Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Kickoff'11: Packers prepare to be surprised

By Kevin Seifert

There is a lesson to be learned from the last time the New Orleans Saints played in the NFL's kickoff game, and fortunately it happened right in front of our very own NFC North eyes.

The Saints, as you might recall, entered last season's kickoff game against the Minnesota Vikings with their reputation as blitzing defense intact. They had battered and bruised quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, and there was every reason to believe they would follow a similar path in the teams' September 2010 rematch.

Instead, defensive coordinator Greg Williams opened in a relatively conservative Cover-2 look that took the Vikings by surprise and left them out of sorts for most of the Saints' 14-9 victory. After his team went three-and-out on five of its 10 possessions and managed only 12 first downs, then-coach Brad Childress said: "I have to take my hat off to them. It was set up as a big blitz game. The blitz was very, very infrequent. So they did a nice job with that."

As they prepare for Thursday night's game against the Saints, the Green Bay Packers are no doubt expecting the proverbial unexpected. Coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday that his previous Packers teams have seen "between 20 and 30 percent" of so-called unscouted looks in their season openers, making it doubly important to "stay true to your base principles," he said.

The term "unscouted look" usually refers to a scheme, play, coverage or blitz that a team has never before put on film. That isn't exactly what the Saints did to the Vikings last season; they had played Cover-2 before under Williams but rarely for the majority of a game. But there is little doubt that the Saints, and probably the Packers for that matter, will do something new or totally out of character Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

The unscouted look is an especially important weapon for established teams. Both the Packers and Saints are entering their sixth season under the same head coach. Both Williams and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers are entering their third seasons. There shouldn't be many secrets between these teams.

But that's what makes Week 1 among of the most intriguing points on the NFL calendar. Somebody is going to come up with something new that causes a ripple effect on the way to victory. We'll know in about 60 hours or so what it is. (What? You expected me to tell you what it's going to be?)