Packers vs. Saints: 3 things to watch

Weston Hodkiewicz
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New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

Graham factor

Jimmy Graham wasn't himself in his first game back from a shoulder injury last week. With Josh Hill getting the start, Graham was targeted only once on 28 passing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable. Still, the Packers are game-planning for Graham to be active, but time will tell if he can be a factor like he was in the teams' two previous meetings (11 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown). Drew Brees asserted earlier this week in a conference call with media that Graham is making progress and he's not worried about his athleticism being compromised. The Packers' secondary might be without cornerback Sam Shields and safety Morgan Burnett. If that's the case, it'll be young defensive backs like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward that must step up in the middle of the field. "He's a very physical wide receiver. I mean, tight end," said Clinton-Dix, catching himself. "He's like a wide receiver. You just have to get your hands on him, he's got a big body so he can box you out. You just have to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage."

Silence is golden

The Packers struggled in the two noisy environments they played in this season. Conversely, the Superdome has been the only place the Saints have been able to win. Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions in the only game he's played in the Superdome, a 51-29 drubbing in his 11th NFL start in 2008. At the same time, Rodgers has thrown only three total interceptions in his other 16 dome games combined and owns a 113.9 passer rating indoors. The Packers practiced outside Wednesday and Thursday with the confidence the team will be able to handle the noisy elements better than it did in a 36-16 loss to Seattle in the opener or last month's 19-7 letdown in Detroit. As important as Rodgers is to that equation, there's a lot riding on the Packers' ability to get their run game involved early. The Packers averaged 3.6 yards per carry in the losses to Seattle and Detroit. "Anytime you're on the road, the most important thing is starting fast and getting the crowd out of it," left guard Josh Sitton said. "The best way to do that is to have a run game. You know when you can run the ball successfully, you can take the whole team out of it, the whole crowd, everybody. So if we can do that, we'll be successful."

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan

Blitz this

Like his twin brother, Rex, New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves to confuse opposing offenses with creative and deceptive blitz packages. It was his scheme that helped the Saints pivot from last in total defense in 2012 to fourth a year ago. However, Rodgers has been impervious to Ryan family tactics so far. When Rob was the defensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2009, Rodgers was 9-of-10 for 139 yards and two touchdowns when he was blitzed for a maximum 158.3 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Rex didn't fare any better earlier this season. He blitzed Rodgers on 16 of his 49 dropbacks with Rodgers completing 11 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. The secondary has been a weak spot for the Saints, who are 28th in the NFL in pass defense (270.5 yards per game). Still, Ryan's unit presents challenges and the Packers are counting on Saints defenders wanting to prove they're better than the numbers suggest. "He's such a creative (coach). Something new is always coming that you haven't seen yet," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "You just have to be alert for it and prepare the guys the best you can."

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