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Green Bay Packers face one of NFL's toughest offenses in New Orleans Saints

Sep. 7, 2011
 
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, and quarterback Drew Brees (9) watch from the sidelines in the third quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, and quarterback Drew Brees (9) watch from the sidelines in the third quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. / Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Five-year plans

Offenses that have generated more than 28,000 yards since 2006 and the number of 300-yard games they have produced.

Yards Team 300s

31,036 Saints 70

29,973 Patriots 63

29,396 Eagles 66

29,353 Cowboys 67

29,078 Colts 71

28,802 Packers 65

28,558 Chargers 63

28,230 Texans 62

28,152 Giants 63

More

Sean Payton knows offense.

From his days as a record-setting quarterback at Eastern Illinois to his stint as head coach of the Saints, Payton and his teams have put up big yardage.

The Packers could not have drawn a more potent opponent with which to open the season. Super Bowl champs a season before Green Bay, New Orleans has an offense that has been unmatched since Payton ambled into the Big Easy.

Payton was named the Saints’ 14th coach in January 2006. Since, New Orleans’ offense is the only one to have averaged more than 6,000 yards per season.

Putting the “pow” in power came quickly. The Saints generated a league-leading 6,264 yards for their rookie coach. The club opened with 13 straight games of more than 300 yards.

New Orleans again finished with the top-ranked offense in 2008 (6,571 yards) and 2009 (6,461). Even when not occupying that spot, the offense remained highly charged, ranking fourth (5,780 yards) in 2007 and sixth (5,960) a year ago.

How big has the transformation been under Payton who, as a collegian, threw for a school-record 10,665 yards? The Saints ranked 20th (5,031 yards) the year before he arrived. In the 38 years previous to that, the team just once generated more than 5,500 yards, that the 8-8 club of Dick Nolan in 1979.

Come Thursday night, the Packers can all but be assured they will be nicked for at least 300 yards. The Saints have generated 300 or more yards 70 times in the regular season since 2006, one short of NFL-leading Indianapolis.

Quantity, clearly, is not a concern. What about quality?

There, too, New Orleans is without equal. In averaging 5.88 yards per play since 2006, it leads a parade of superpowers that include Dallas (5.84), San Diego (5.79), Philadelphia (5.76) and Indianapolis (5.74).

Should Dom Capers look a little bleary-eyed in the press box, the Saints could be the culprit. New Orleans is capable of keeping many a defensive coordinator up at night.

The Saints’ world-class production starts at quarterback, where they feature one of the best. Drew Brees, who is entering his 11th season, is the 10th highest rated passer in history.

Brees signed with New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent in 2006. A starter for four years with the Chargers before that, he’s outperformed his days in San Diego.

Starting 79 of the last 80 regular-season games, Brees has more attempts (3,013), completions (2,020) and yards (22,918) than any quarterback in the last five years. His 129 touchdown passes and five consecutive 4,000-yard seasons are tied with Peyton Manning for the most over that span.

His passer ratings are among the best. In 2006 he led the NFC with a rating of 96.2. During his team’s Super Bowl run, he topped the league with an impressive rating of 109.6 points.

What Brees has lacked is a running game equal to his passing. The Saints are the 25th best at running the football over the last five years. They have had just one 1,000-yard back (Deuce McAllister, 2006) in that time.

Their best finish was 2009 when they ranked sixth with 2,106 yards on the ground.

This year, the team is looking to rookie Mark Ingram and free agent pickup Darren Sproles to lead its running game. New Orleans moved into the first round to draft Ingram with the 28th pick overall.

Even if those two don’t post big numbers, the Saints remain dangerous. They, like the Packers, have earned 53 wins (including the postseason) since 2006 mostly without a dominant running game.

Like Payton, Mike McCarthy also made his head coaching debut in 2006. His Packers rank sixth in yards gained over the last five years.

The coaches have twice shared opposite sidelines. New Orleans downed Green Bay 34-27 at Lambeau Field in 2006, and the Saints triumphed 51-29 in the Superdome in 2008.

In the first meeting, 765 yards were generated. In the rematch, 759 yards resulted with a good portion coming courtesy of Brees, who compiled a passer rating of 157.5 on the strength of 323 yards and four touchdowns.

The kickoff to the NFL’s 92nd season should be an explosive one. Packers-Saints has the potential to exceed the hype that has been building since football’s return was assured in late July.

Extra point

Since 2006, the Saints are 1-9 (regular season) when they fail to gain 300 yards.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 14-7.

At Lambeau Field: Green Bay leads 2-1.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (27-20 overall; 0-1 vs. New Orleans).

Saints: Drew Brees (79-58 overall; 2-1 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Saint, now a Packer

Nose tackle Howard Green (2003-04) is a former Saint.

Once a Packer, now a Saint

Fullback Korey Hall (2007-10) is a former Packer.

— Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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