Jason Wilde breaks down what he thinks the Packers need to do to earn a victory in their Week 1 matchup with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
1. HOME SWEET HOME?
Even with the Saints doing as much homework as they could on how to prevent an invasion of Packers fans in their home-away-from-home stadium of TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville — going so far as to choose that site because travel from Wisconsin would be more difficult — if their attempts to limit green-and-gold clad fans from taking over pay off, it still won’t be the homefield advantage they would have had at the Superdome.
No one is more aware of that than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur, who know how difficult it can be for an offense to function in New Orleans — and understand how much the Packers benefitted from last year’s game having been played inside an empty Superdome. The Packers won, 37-30.
“Good for them, trying to get every little advantage,” Rodgers said. “(But) I would assume based on when we played in Jacksonville the last couple times, there will be a lot of Packers fans there. Even still, not playing in New Orleans with that crowd noise back-to-back years is definitely nice.”
The Saints have other problems, too, including a secondary that’s in tatters because of injuries. They signed veteran corner Desmond Trufant and traded for Houston corner Bradley Roby, although a suspension going back to last season means he won’t play, either. That could lead Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to go after Rodgers with the blitz, as he did in last year’s meeting, thinking his defensive backfield won’t be able to hold up.
“It’s funny looking at last year. They pressured us a lot, more than they ever have,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “You just have to get the flavor of the day as you move forward and get ready to adjust as the game goes on. To have to have young guys playing, let alone new people that are kind of coming in during the week, it may make it more vanilla. It may make it maybe even more aggressive. For us, we have to play for everything.”
2. SLOT MACHINES
Now reunited by a summer trade at the quarterback’s behest, the last time Rodgers and veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb played a game together as teammates, it was the 2018 regular-season finale, and Packers team photographer captured the two sharing a pregame hug. While Rodgers’ face was obscured, Cobb was clearly in tears.
“Luckily his face was captured in that picture because mine was doing the same kind of ugly cry face,” Rodgers confessed. “He's obviously really happy to be back. (I’ve) been spending a lot of time with him and his awesome wife (Aiyda) and their two young kids, so it's just really special to have him back. He's definitely not taking it for granted and savoring every single moment.”
Cobb, coincidentally, made his NFL debut against the Saints in the 2011 season opener at Lambeau Field, when he scored a pair of touchdowns — on a 108-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard catch-and-run — to beat the Saints, 42-34. Now 31, Cobb gives the Packers something they haven’t had during LaFleur’s first two seasons in charge: A true slot receiver, although he’s expected to share time there with his rookie protégé (Amari Rodgers) while Davante Adams and Allen Lazard will also see time there.
“We’re going to use him in the rotation. I don’t want to wear him out. This is a long season,” LaFleur said. “Obviously those two (Cobb and Amari Rodgers) are more suited to go in the slot, but it doesn’t mean they can’t go outside. And certainly, we’re going to continue to move Davante around. I think Allen has done some great job for us in the slot as well.”
3. GOODBYE BREES, HELLO JAMEIS
For the first time since 2005, the Packers will face a Saints team that won’t be quarterbacked by Drew Brees, who retired after last season and has moved to NBC Sports — apparently with a new-and-improved hairline. He’s been replaced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston (above), who beat out ex-Packers training-camp quarterback Taysom Hill for the job after spending last season as a backup to Brees. Winston came to New Orleans after the Buccaneers opted not to re-sign him and brought Tom Brady in instead.
In 2019, his last year as a starter, Winston led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) while becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more touchdown passes (33) and 30 or more interceptions (30) while the Bucs went 7-9.
“You’re playing against two different quarterbacks, but it’s the same scheme, (or a) similar scheme,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “I actually have a lot of respect for Winston. Anybody that can throw for 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, he has all the ability in the world. So you have to respect that.”
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Joe Barry said his group still has to prepare for Hill, who will make cameo appearances at quarterback while lining up all over the field.
“Obviously they have not one quarterback that you’ve got to talk about, they got two. So, that brings a (difference) dynamic,” Barry said. “Taysom has proven that he not only is a guy that can come in and play a few snaps at quarterback. In Drew's absence last year, he started games and won NFL football games, so he proved that to a lot of people.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.