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Playing pass defense in the NFL isn’t nearly as easy as the New Orleans Saints have made it appear to be in their first two games, victories over Tennessee and Carolina.
Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, an 11-year veteran, and Carolina’s Bryce Young, this year’s No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, combined to complete 38 of 67 passes (56.7 percent) for 351 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions. They were sacked seven times, hit 17 times and had 13 passes defensed.
The next test for the league’s seventh-best pass defense (160 yards per game) will come Sunday, when the Saints (2-0) face the Packers (1-1) and quarterback Jordan Love at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Love, who has become Green Bay’s starter in his fourth season, is making his fourth NFL start. But while he only has completed 55.8 percent of his passes this season – 29 of 52 – for a modest 396 yards, he has thrown six touchdowns and has been sacked twice, hasn’t thrown an interception and recovered his own fumble.
“He’s a very athletic quarterback, but he’s a pocket passer,” Saints defensive coordinator Joe Woods said of Love, who has 35 rushing yards on five carries. “He’s really not a runner. He definitely has the arm strength, he’s a problem when things break down – he can create plays with his feet. He’s a problem trying to get him down if you’re rushing four.
“I know it’s his first year there (starting), but all the signs are there. I think he’s going to be a tremendous quarterback.”
Love has thrown for three touchdowns in each of the first two games – New Orleans has allowed just one touchdown in the first two games – and has triggered Green Bay’s vertical passing game. The Packers average 13.7 yards per completion, Love has 35- and 32-yard scoring throws in the first two games and Green Bay also has completions of 51, 37 and 30 yards.
“They’re a vertical passing team,” Woods said. “As the secondary coach, I expect that every week. I just rely on our guys playing our technique and to me, if they want to take shots, it provides opportunities for us to make plays on the football.”
So far, opportunities for opposing defenses in Chicago and Atlanta weren’t plentiful or taken advantage of, largely because Love has done well taking care of the football.
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“He can run the ball, he can read defenses pretty well. He’s really good with the intermediate passes, especially in-breaking passes,” Saints defensive back Alontae Taylor said. “So, just make sure we’re defending those.”
“I think (Love has) played well,” Coach Dennis Allen said. “I think they do a good job of giving him some good plays with some of the play-action stuff, and they’ve got good skill position players to get the ball to. I think he’s played well in the first couple of weeks.”
Taylor stressed that Love’s mobility could pose problems, especially when defensive backs are forced to cover for an extended period of time.
“It’s difficult, but we’re elite corners,” he said. “We’re an elite secondary, we’re an elite defense. We play with speed, so as long as we attach to the person that we’re supposed to and just run with him, we’ll be fine.”
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