GREEN BAY—The first two weeks of the season gave the Packers offense a trial run against two of the bigger obstacles they’ll face Sunday night in New Orleans.
First was the noise in Seattle in Week 1. The Superdome will be louder, but the frenzied environment will have similarities.
Second, and perhaps more important, was the creative pressure packages of the New York Jets in Week 2. New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is a lot like his brother, Jets head coach Rex (as well as their father Buddy), in building defenses that disguise rush and coverage combinations and blitz unpredictably.
“Anytime you’re playing a team coached by one of the Ryan brothers, you have to expect the unexpected,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday. “They’re really creative, talented defensive minds.
“Rex threw a lot of different things at us when we played them, different looks we hadn’t seen on tape, different coverages, and made it tough to figure out who was coming. Rob I’m sure is going to bring some of the same stuff. I have a lot of respect for both of those guys. Their family has been synonymous with defense in this league for a long time.”
The Saints’ defense isn’t as stingy as the Jets’ and has had its struggles this year, but it’ll have the noisy dome advantage on Sunday night.
At Lambeau Field six weeks ago, the Jets had the Packers on their heels early with a quick fumble and a couple of sacks. As the first half wore on, Rodgers engineered a series of drives for field goals and then finally found the end zone just before halftime.
On the road, with Drew Brees quarterbacking the other side, the Packers may not have the luxury of time to get everything deciphered. Settling in won’t be easy.
“A lot of crazy, exotic things,” veteran left guard Josh Sitton said of what he’s seen of the Saints on film. “I’m not sure how much of that we’ll get. Time will tell, but we’ll be ready for it.”
Rodgers can be especially dangerous against the blitz, which is why Sitton and his linemates don’t know exactly how aggressive the Saints will be. New Orleans, 2-0 at home this season, allowed 31 points to the supposedly punchless Buccaneers at the Superdome two weeks ago.
In addition to having adjusted to the Jets’ schemes last month, the Packers also will benefit from their running backs’ all-around games. Mike McCarthy has commented several times this season how important it is that Eddie Lacy and his backfield companions can play all three downs, which in part means they’re all reliable in blitz pick-up.
Top backup James Starks’ availability for this week is uncertain due to an ankle injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice, but Lacy said if he has to shoulder a bigger load both running and pass protecting, he’s up for it.
A native of Louisiana, Lacy will have a lot of family and friends watching on Sunday at the Superdome, the stadium in which he helped Alabama win a national title and which is located less than an hour from the home he recently built for his family to get them out of their post-Hurricane Katrina trailer.
Lacy isn’t sure if he’ll visit the new home, which he hasn’t seen yet, on this trip or over the bye week, but either way he’s determined to focus on football and his responsibilities against this Saints defense.
“They’re definitely a creative blitzing team, but it just goes back to our base rules,” Lacy said. “As long as everybody is on the same page, everybody knows where they have to be, who to look at, (then) no matter what they do, we should be able to get it picked up. Even with the blitzes when they send more guys than we’re blocking, that’s when the hot throws come in.”
The Packers also have a hot quarterback, of course, and an offensive line that has only grown more cohesive during the team’s current four-game winning streak. All that, plus the preparation from the first two weeks of the season, gives the Saints plenty to think about, too.
“You give Aaron time, he’s unstoppable,” Sitton said. “We go as far as this offensive line goes. If we can stay healthy and continue to play well, we’ll be good.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 22