GREEN BAY – The phrase “just another game” gets tossed around a lot, and while Packers guard Jahri Evans used it this week as well, he was honest enough to admit there’s a little more to it.
With the New Orleans Saints coming to Lambeau Field on Sunday, the six-time Pro Bowler will be facing for the first time the team he went to battle with for 11 seasons.
While his top priority is to win, and to get new Green Bay starting quarterback Brett Hundley off to as strong a start as possible, Evans will have some pride on the line, too. The Saints moved on after 11 years, and so did he, which is part of the business, but that doesn’t sap Sunday’s game of all emotion for him.
“I definitely want to show them I can still play,” Evans said.
“Obviously there’s people in that building that probably thought I wasn’t the same player I was before, and that’s fine. It comes with age. But I feel as though I’m still an elite player in this game and I prepare that way, and I go out there and try to show it on every play. It’s going to be fun.”
Evans’ old quarterback, Drew Brees, told New Orleans media this week it’ll be “funny” to see Evans in another uniform. The two longtime teammates and fellow All-Pros hold each other in very high regard, but they also know how big this game is for both teams.
The Saints are looking to win their fourth straight after an 0-2 start, while the Packers have a new beginning on their hands with Hundley.
Evans can certainly provide some insight on the Saints’ defense to his new teammates, but he’s not necessarily going to feed it directly to Hundley, who “has a lot on his plate already.”
That said, Evans knows what New Orleans sack leader Cameron Jordan, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, is all about and the tough matchup he presents.
“He never gives up. He’s relentless,” Evans said of Jordan, who has five sacks in five games this season. “He’s always countering a move. Even if you have him blocked, he’s always into his second and third move countering.
“He’s just very active. He can play over the tackle, play over the center, over the guard. He’s not real big, but he’s powerful.”
The Saints also are known for an aggressive defensive scheme that presents a number of different fronts, packages and blitzes. Communication amongst Green Bay’s offensive linemen will be at a premium, and it should be easier to execute at home than it was last week in Minneapolis.
Evans and center Corey Linsley are the only Packers linemen to play in every game so far, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy referred to them as the “stable” forces up front. Depending on whether or not tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, along with guard Lane Taylor, can get back on the field Sunday, a lot could fall on Evans and Linsley to diagnose how the Saints are attacking.
In Evans’ mind, that makes the running game Hundley’s best friend, not just in the down-and-distance equation, but in potentially simplifying things for a new quarterback.
“The quickest thing to get them out of those exotic looks is to catch them in a good run where they’re not gap sound and bust one,” Evans said. “That’ll keep them honest and keep them out of those exotic looks.”
That’s easier said than done, of course, because it’s likely the Saints will load up to stop the run and make the young, inexperienced QB beat them. It’s practically Football 101.
So the passing game will have to execute, especially when the Saints take a chance with a pressure package to really test Hundley. The Packers’ perimeter weapons will have to make them pay.
“You hit them with some big plays, and they’ll sit back and go back to what they normally do,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “When they start to bring some of those exotic blitzes, we have to be able to gash them in those moments and put us in a better position offensively.”
Staying out of a one-dimensional game will be partly the responsibility of Green Bay’s defense, too, going up against a future Hall of Fame QB in Brees.
Last week, the Saints jumped on the Lions, building a 38-10 lead with the help of one defensive touchdown, and New Orleans’ defense, ranked 28th in yards allowed, added two more scores by game’s end in a 52-38 triumph.
That tells a veteran like Evans exactly what each player needs to do.
“Make sure we don’t beat ourselves,” he said. “Make sure we don’t have missed assignments to put us in negative situations to where we beat ourselves.”