It's been awhile – the 2013 season, to be exact – since the New Orleans Saints won four consecutive games. They have the opportunity to do just that Sunday in Green Bay, Wis., against the Packers, and they get the benefit of Green Bay being without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone last Sunday against Minnesota. Here are a few keys for the Saints against the Packers:
- Packers quarterback Brett Hundley completed just more than half of his pass attempts (18 of 33) for less than 200 yards (157), threw three interceptions and was sacked four times by Minnesota. That was an emergency relief appearance; he has had this entire week to practice with the starters and identify the offensive plays with which he feels most comfortable. But that doesn't mean the Saints won't have an effective plan against him. New Orleans, in fact, has tormented the last three quarterbacks (Carolina's Cam Newton, Miami's Jay Cutler and Detroit's Matthew Stafford) it has faced, to the tune of 13 sacks and seven interceptions. The three combined to complete 62 of 106 passes for 643 yards and three touchdowns. If the Vikings were able to get to Hundley four times, the Saints will be after him behind defensive end Cam Jordan, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, who has a team-high five sacks (the Saints have 16 sacks this season). Also, the Saints were proficient at batting down Stafford's passes – they did so nine times – so they can be effective even when they don't reach the quarterback. PS: Hundley is mobile, so keeping him in the pocket and maintaining rush lanes will be important.
- One of the best ways for Green Bay to assist its young quarterback will be to get the running game going. New Orleans, obviously, would like to make the Packers one-dimensional and force the game onto the shoulders of Hundley, who has 44 career pass attempts. The Packers only are averaging 88.3 rushing yards per game, and while the Saints are allowing 100.8, that's another number that has been sliced during the three-game winning streak (85.3). Stopping the run and putting the Packers in obvious passing situations will play to New Orleans' defensive strengths.
- Fact: Adrian Peterson is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame running back. Fact: The Saints are better off without him. That's no slight, it simply is a logical observation after New Orleans ran for 193 yards and two touchdowns, on 37 carries, in its first game without Peterson. Mark Ingram fully returned to the role of workhorse (114 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, plus five catches for 36 yards) and Alvin Kamara (10 rushes for 75 yards, four catches for 12) continued to show why trying to split the load between three running backs was untenable. Green Bay is allowing 119.8 rushing yards per game, so this looks like a good matchup for the Saints.
- New Orleans converted just twice on 12 third-down attempts and committed 13 penalties, for 118 yards, against Detroit. Scoring three defensive touchdowns in the game – the first time that has happened in franchise history – helped offset those deficiencies. But obviously, that's not a harvest that can be counted upon every week. So, simply, the Saints have to be more efficient on third down (36.7 percent for the season) and they have to avoid penalties, which often put them in bad down-and-distance situations. A collective bad day in those categories, on the road, might be impossible to overcome.