|The Packers defense stood stout when |
they most needed to. (via LA Times)
That's the only stat that matters from last night's action. Not the fact that the Saints owned the Packers D in-between the 20s, or New Orleans' ability to convert 64% of their third downs, or even Drew Brees' 419 yards passing.
I repeat: 20%.
It's the percent of times the Saints were able to score a touchdown after making it inside the Packers' 20.
The Packers defense, on their heels for much of the game, nonetheless found their resolve at just the right moments. There was Walden's third-down sack that held the Saints to a field goal on the opening drive of the second half. There was the pressure put on Brees that forced an incompletion on 4th and 1. And, of course, there was the way the game ended.
The last drive was a perfect testament to how the Packers defense played the entire game. After allowing Brees and Co. to march 77 yards down the field in only 1:03, the Packers made a goal-line stand for the ages, stone-walling rookie back Mark Ingram on a run from the 1-yard line with no time left on the clock.
The Packers sure as heck did a lot of bending. But more importantly, they didn't break, holding on for a wild 42-34 victory to open up the 2011 season.
Risers and Sinkers
In every game, there are guys who rise to the occasion-- and those whose performances leave much to be desired. Here's a brief look at Thursday's risers and sinkers.
▲Jarius Wynn- More than just a fill-in for Neal, Wynn was probably the defensive MVP.
▼Charles Woodson- Stupid penalty should've gotten him ejected.
▲Aaron Rodgers- Provided the fast start a team needs against New Orleans, with 188 yards and 3 TDs in the first quarter.
▼Tim Masthay- Gave Sproles all the help he needed, as he out-kicked the coverage on his first punt and line-drived another.
▲Scott Wells- You know your center had a sensational game when he's selected to take part in NBC's "Stars of Game" interview alongside Rodgers.
▲Erik Walden- Beat once, but otherwise looked good in coverage and also had a big sack.
▼AJ Hawk- Sproles can make most LBs look slow, but Hawk was awful in space all game.
▲Randall Cobb- Two TDs, including an NFL-record tying 108 yard return. Not a bad debut.
▲Jarrett Bush- -Shows up in the box score for the right reasons-- a sack an a pass defended in the endzone.
▼Sam Shields- Just like in SB XLV, Shields was victimized by a double-move up the sideline.
▲Jordy Nelson- Solid showing by Nelson, who is clearly emerging as the #2 WR.
▲James Starks- Grant isn't bad, but Starks is clearly better. Great combo of strength and speed.
- From the fast start to the shaky third quarter, this game was eerily similar to the Packers victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The most alarming part about the deja vu, however, was the Packers offense's inability to put their opponent away late in the game, instead placing the burden on the defense. It worked against the Eagles, Bears, and Steelers in last year's post-season, and again last night, but you have to think our luck is going to run out soon.
- If I was grading the special teams, I'd give them a C. An A+ for the return units (Cobb's TD, Driver's onside kick recovery) and an F for the coverage unites (Sproles, Sproles, Sproles). While it's nice to have a return game with some lethality, I think ST Coach Shawn Slocum's number one priority needs to be limiting the opponents' ability to pick up big chunks of yardage-- and score without their offense taking the field.
- The Pack, and Aaron Rodgers in particular, are near-unstoppable on 3rd down. We converted 8 of 12 3rd down attempts, including Rodgers first two TD passes.
- Aside from TJ Lang's two false-start penalties, the offensive line was stupendous. They looked downright dominant at times in run blocking, and kept Rodgers clean for much of the night. The only two sacks he suffered came when the Saints had a numbers advantage and when Starks missed a blitz pick-up.
- Donald Driver had a productive game, making all the naysayers look like idiots. He tied the Packers record for career receiving yards and will get a chance to break it next week in Carolina.
- On a different note, where the HECK was James Jones? He had a meaningless 1-yard catch on 3rd and forever in the 4th quarter, but other than that he didn't make so much as blip on the game's radar. I didn't expect his lack of targets to carry over into the regular season, but that's what happened last night. I have to imagine they're considering dealing him, especially with guys like West and Gurley ready to step up from the practice squad.
- The Packers did not get to Brees enough. Their defensive looks were pretty vanilla, and when they did bring pressure it was unproductive. AJ Hawk is not good in coverage, but he's equally inefficient as a blitzer. Capers needs to find a way to give Clay Matthews some help.
- I mentioned Wynn above, but his performance deserves some more attention. Looking back on my in-game analysis, his name shows up three times: for a coverage sack before halftime, a stop on 3rd and 1 followed by an incompletion-inducing pressure on 4th down in the 3rd quarter, and a tackle for a loss with the Saints knocking on the goal line in the 4th (they scored anyway). Mike Neal may very well assume starting duties when he finally gets healthy, but it's good to know that the Packers have some quality depth backing him up.
While the defense took a whole lot of punches and the special teams was atrocious at times, there were still far more positives than negatives in this game, most important of which was the fact that the Packers got the W and started the 2011 season off on the right foot. We'll have to see what comes of Tramon Williams' shoulder injury, but it looks like the Packers are going to have a very successful season. Next week's trip to Carolina should not be much of a contest.