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Entering Sunday’s game against the Packers (1-1) at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., the New Orleans Saints are 2-0.
Nothing more really needs to be said. Bottom line is the Saints accomplished what they set out to accomplish.
Here are a few ways in which they can ascend to 3-0 for the first time since 2013, when they won their first five games of the season:
1. EARLY BIRDS: New Orleans has shown it can be a formidable second-half team, scoring 10 of its 16 points and 14 of its 20 in the second half against Tennessee and Carolina, respectively. Credit the second-half adjustments that have led to standout protection and much better efficiency from quarterback Derek Carr, who has been outstanding after halftime (a combined 18 of 23 for 289 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions and one sack against the Titans and Panthers). But New Orleans can’t continue to flirt with danger with the slow starts, and it has to get it going in the red zone (1 for 6 in the first six quarters, before scoring on both red zone chances in the second half against Carolina). Maybe a target or two for tight end Jimmy Graham in the red zone would help.
2. PROTECT, PROTECT, PROTECT: Carr has been sacked eight times in the first two games, seven times in the first half. Whatever it is the Saints have figured out in terms of protection in the second half, needs to be in use in the first half. If we add in the unnecessary roughness penalty that Carr absorbed against the Titans – or even if we don’t – he’s taking too much punishment. An effective running game would help, and New Orleans had that against Carolina because Taysom Hill ran for 75 yards on nine carries. But run game or not, Carr needs more time. He’s durable, but hits and sacks take a toll.
3. PLUG THE LEAKS: New Orleans is allowing five yards per carry through two games. True, that number is skewed by Carolina quarterback Bryce Young scrambling twice for 34 yards; the Panthers would have totaled 66 yards on 17 carries minus Young’s total. But that’s not the way it works – all the numbers count, and New Orleans, which has been superb defensively while allowing just 262 yards per game, can add another layer of superb-ness (yep, made up a word) if it can put the squeeze on Green Bay’s run game. The Packers only have run for 176 yards in the first two games, on 3.3 yards per carry. This could be the game where defensive tackles Nathan Shepherd, Khalen Saunders and Malcolm Roach, and linebackers Demario Davis and Pete Werner, clog up the run to the degree that reaches their standard.
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4. LIVE ON LOVE: Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love isn’t a rookie, and the Saints’ defense may not be able to grind him up in the same manner as it snacked on Panthers rookie Bryce Young. But Love, in his fourth season, only will be making his fourth NFL start and while he had the opportunity to watch and learn for three years, he still isn’t a seasoned, on-field producer in the league. He has completed 56 percent of his passes in the first two games, but he has six touchdowns, no interceptions and has been sacked twice. The Saints, led by defensive end Carl Granderson, have seven sacks and the secondary, led by cornerback Marshon Lattimore‘s quest to prove he’s the best in the universe, has been playing at star level across the board. Sunday isn’t the time for slippage, and it could be an assist to the Saints that Love’s offensive line starters on the left side – All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari and guard Elgton Jenkins – will be out.
5. PREMIUM COVERAGE: Coverage on special teams may be put to the test. Packers punt returner Jayden Reed has averaged 18 yards on three returns, and kick returner Kelsean Nixon is at 27.5 yards on four returns. The Saints only have given up 8.7 yards per punt return and nothing on kickoffs, because Blake Grupe – a perfect 5 for 5 on field goals – has kicked nothing but touchbacks. If he can continue that Sunday, it’ll be up to punter Lou Hedley and his gunners (All-Pro J.T. Gray, especially) to handle Reed.
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