After last night’s fantastic game in which the offenses exploded for over 400 yards each, and the teams combined for 76 points, I’m more convinced that both of these teams are serious contenders for the Super Bowl. But what about the defenses? Do you think last night was about the quality of the offense, or the lack of defense? I think it’s mostly the former, with a dash of the Saints being without their best defensive end, Will Smith.
I didn’t see many completely blown coverages. I saw plenty of plays where there was very good coverage by the secondary but it didn’t matter. Against 90% of the quarterbacks in this league, the Saints would have allowed something more along the lines of 20 of 35 for 230 yards, and the Packers would have racked up more sacks and turnovers going against a team playing from behind.
Since 1990, 11 teams have scored at least 30 points but still lost the season opener. 8 of those 11 teams went on to make the playoffs, the last being the 2007 Giants, who lost the opener at Dallas 45-35. The 11 opponents of those teams made it 10 of 11 times. In other words, when there is an opening day shootout, the teams tend to be good, and it’s probably more about the offenses already clicking. Drew Brees also became the 5th passer ever to throw for 400 yards on opening day and lose, and his 419 yards ties Peyton Manning last year and Terry Bradshaw in 1984 as most in an opening week lost (all 4 other teams that threw for 400 also made the playoffs).
Of course, the story of last night’s game were the two short yardage plays near the end zone. The first came with just over 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and the Saints down 35-27. New Orleans had just been stopped on 3rd and 1, and needed a foot for a first down. The decision to go for it was absolutely the correct one, down 8, with a foot to go, in a shootout. The fact that the Packers went 93 yards to extend the lead sort of validated that, if the 4 touchdown drives before did not already. The problem was the decision to go to a more base formation with receivers wide, and pass out of it.
Later, after a frantic drive in the final minute, the Saints got to the 10 yard line. A.J. Hawk was called for interference on Darren Sproles on the final play, which I thought was a harsh result and it looked like a great defensive play that should have ended it. Nonetheless, the Saints got one play from the 1-yard line, and penetration by the tackles Raji and Pickett and selling out by everyone else cleaned it up so Ingram had no chance. The interesting thing is, I thought that same play would have been enough on the earlier 4th down, when there were 2 less feet to go. On that final play, the Saints went with a true short yardage package, and tried to power the Packers, which they had not done well all night. A naked boot by Brees there on the fake out of the power formation, and Brees would have walked in easily.
This game came down to the Colston fumble on the second play of offense for New Orleans, which put them chasing down 14-0 before Brees had a chance to get going, and the short yardage failures by New Orleans in the red zone, while the Packers cashed (often on third down) when they got close and had no turnovers. Both teams moved the ball all night with precise passes from the quarterbacks, and a multitude of diverse weapons. The Packers made the game winning plays. The Saints will clean up their errors and be very dangerous, and get Will Smith back in week 3. Both of these teams will be strong contenders for the Super Bowl.
[photo via Getty]