GREEN BAY—If Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are indeed headed for another shootout, the Packers may need to get Brees to do something he’s never done when these two elite quarterbacks have faced off.
Throw an interception.
The two signal callers have put up a total of 211 points in three meetings, an average of 70-plus. In 2008, a back-and-forth first half became a Saints runaway in the second, 51-29. In 2011 and 2012, the Packers pulled out close triumphs late by 42-34 and 28-27 scores.
In those three games, Brees threw for 1,188 yards and 10 TDs with no picks. Zero, in 129 pass attempts. That was against Green Bay defenses that intercepted a total of 71 passes in those three seasons, but none against Brees. (In the interest of accuracy, it should be pointed out the Packers did intercept one pass in the ’08 game, when Saints receiver Lance Moore threw the ball on a trick play.)
The Packers currently rank second in the league with 10 interceptions, while Brees has thrown seven through six games this season. His most recent, in the final minutes last week in Detroit, cost his team a victory.
Stopping an oncoming Brees onslaught in its tracks, just once, could make the difference if the scoreboard is busy. It will require perseverance, poise and short memories.
“You know he’s going to make his plays, but as a defender, you can’t get frustrated,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You have to stick together. You know there’s going to be plays out there for you to make, and when that opportunity comes, the main thing is you can’t miss out on it.
“He is who he is for a reason. He’s going to make some plays for his team, but you have to have confidence that we’re going to make some plays also.”
The Packers come into the Superdome on Sunday night with a hot offense while the Saints bring a highly ranked one. The Packers have scored at least 38 points three times during a current four-game winning streak. The Saints rank second in the league in both total yards and passing yards per game.
Green Bay’s defense is facing a crossroads contest. The unit has shown steady growth, and when given an early, sizable lead to work with against the Vikings and Panthers in recent weeks, it hasn’t allowed the opponent any life.
The road has been a different story, though, with wildly inconsistent play away from Lambeau Field.
A month ago in Detroit, the Packers defense was hanging tough but ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. The following week in Chicago, an unsightly first half was saved from being a complete disaster thanks to a just-in-time tackle (and perhaps blocked camera angle) on the final play at the goal line. Then in Miami, three long Dolphins TD drives in the second half forced Rodgers & Co. to work some last-minute magic.
There was plenty to like in other portions of those defensive performances on the road, particularly the turnovers. Two third-quarter interceptions of Jay Cutler turned the tide in Chicago. Two early picks in Miami bought some time and margin for error.
Can the Packers get an interception from Brees? Green Bay’s secondary could be without two starters, as cornerback Sam Shields (knee) is doubtful and safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is questionable, but no unit on the team has more depth to compensate. It could be the key to snapping an impressive New Orleans streak.
The Saints, and Brees, are as dominant as it gets playing in prime time at the Superdome. Including playoffs, they’ve won 13 straight home night contests, dating back to the 2009 NFC title game vs. Minnesota. Brees has thrown just four interceptions in those 13 wins, against 43 TD passes.
Dating back to the ’08 Monday nighter against the Packers that started the series between these prolific QBs, the Saints have won 16 of 17 prime-time home games. The only loss came to Dallas in ’09, and yes, Brees threw a pick in that one.
Rodgers, playing in his first road prime-time game, threw three interceptions in the ’08 meeting and fondly remembered this week laying a big hit on Saints cornerback Jabari Greer out of frustration after one of them. That’s how that game snowballed the wrong way.
The Packers can’t ask for three from Brees, and they shouldn’t need that many. But they may need one.
“To have the ball in Aaron’s hands for an extra possession, and take one away from Drew Brees,” cornerback Davon House said. “That’s big.”
It sure would be.
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