The Nov. 24, 2008, blowout loss at New Orleans exposed a major weakness in Mike McCarthy’s program.
The Green Bay Packers coach wanted some continuity when he took the job in 2006, so he kept Bob Sanders on the staff to be his defensive coordinator. Sanders was the defensive ends coach the previous year on Mike Sherman’s staff. For McCarthy, Sanders would run the same defensive system that Jim Bates did. But under Sanders, the Packers’ defense never finished in the top 10 and was better than 20th in points allowed only one time, in 2007, during his three seasons as coordinator.
If the 51-29 loss to the Saints in the Superdome wasn’t the final straw for Sanders, then two weeks later — when the Houston Texas rolled up 549 yards of total offense against the Packers — was it for him and his system.
McCarthy realized a change was necessary, so he fired Sanders and hired Dom Capers to run the 3-4 defense. Without that move, the Packers may never have won the Super Bowl last season.
This will be the Packers’ first opportunity with Capers running their defense to face the Saints’ high-powered offense. Given his success in his two seasons with the Packers, a repeat of the 2008 defensive meltdown against New Orleans seems unlikely.
If there’s an area of concern heading into Thursday’s opener against the Saints, it’s the offensive line.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked six times in the preseason while playing what amounted to a little more than a full game.
Left tackle Chad Clifton struggled in the preseason game at Indianapolis, where he allowed two sacks and had a holding penalty. The normally steady right guard Josh Sitton uncharacteristically gave up a sack against the Colts, too.
Plus, the Packers have a new starting left guard in T.J. Lang, who is unproven.
And if there are injuries on the line, there could be trouble. General Manager Ted Thompson kept only eight offensive linemen, and the three backups — rookie Derek Sherrod and second-year pros Evan Dietrtich-Smith and Marshall Newhouse — have a combined zero starts. Only Dietrich-Smith has played in an NFL game, and that was in 2009, when most of his playing time came on special teams.
Saints rushing offense vs. Packers run defense
If there was an area the Packers struggled last season, it was against the run. They ranked 18th out of the 32 NFL teams in rushing yards allowed per game and 28th in yards per carry allowed. It was a shocking slip for an outfit that the year before was the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. The Saints revamped their running game after finishing last season ranked 28th in rushing yards per game. They took the top-rated running back in the draft, Alabama’s Mark Ingram, and signed free-agent back Darren Sproles to go along with Pierre Thomas.