Woodson Headlines NFL’s Top Playmaking Secondary
Since 2004, when the NFL Opening Kickoff Game started being hosted by the reigning Super Bowl winner on Thursday night of Week 1, the defending champ is unbeaten. On top of that fact, take into consideration the Packers only lost once at Lambeau last season. In that loss to Miami, Aaron Rodgers was a week removed from a concussion suffered the previous week in Washington, and it took overtime for the Dolphins to hand Green Bay its only home blemish on the year. With that said, you can make a case for the Packers as the first lock of the 2011 NFL campaign on Thursday night.
1. Packer Pass Rush – Green Bay’s vaunted quarterback assault group registered 47 sacks last season; with six defenders posting at least three sacks. Furthermore, the list doesn’t include, possibly, one of their most fierce pass rushers – Charles Woodson. Dom Capers’ unit features a wrecking crew that boasts elite or budding players at every position. Despite the loss of Cullen Jenkins (replacement: Mike Neal), there’s virtually no weakness with this defensive squad, especially when you set sights on its intimidating pass rush. Couple the disguising blitz looks with the uncertainty of the Saints tackles, and Drew Brees could find himself running for safety in attempt to avoid incoming Packer hitmen.
2. Return of Jermichael Finley – Although listed as a limited participant in Tuesday’s injury report, Finley is likely to play against the Saints and make his presence felt. It’s obvious Jermichael will create mismatches for just about every team he faces, so needless to say, he will feast on New Orleans’ outside linebackers, who leave much to be desired. Scott Shanle and Will Herring will take turns trying to keep up with Finley, who is the league’s most gifted tight end. Both ‘backers are considered average at best, and will have a hard time covering #88. If the Saints had a glaring weakness, it would be their lack of playmakers next to middle man Jonathan Vilma.
3. One Dimensional – Forcing Rodgers to pass is not what the Saints want to do, however, it could be their best bet in notching a road upset. If the Saints shutdown the run game, which they can do with the trio of Shaun Rogers, Sedrick Ellis and Aubrayo Franlin on the interior, things will get predictable. Thus, allowing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to dial up an abundance of different numbers to pressure Rodgers. Such a method would work in New Orleans’ favor, seeing the suspect Green Bay offensive line is quite vulnerable (starting left tackle Chad Clifton: question mark due to knee) and prone to mistakes. It’s no telling what could happen if Williams’ gang forces one of the league’s best quarterbacks to hurry his throws and disrupt his rhythm and timing with his receivers.
Prediction – I’ll side with the history on the defending champs side and take the Packers to win convincingly due to their dynamic big-play offense and turnover-producing defense. Packers 30 Saints 20