Behind Enemy Lines: Matchups

We examine five matchups that will go a long way toward deciding who wins Thursday night's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Leading off: Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews against Saints right tackle Zach Strief.

Packers LOLB Clay Matthews vs. Saints RT Zach Strief: Matthews was dogged by chronic tightness in his left hamstring during training camp, which limited him to only two games and a total of 14 snaps. That's 14 snaps more than Matthews played last preseason as he nursed the hamstring, and he promptly went out in Week 1 and notched three sacks at Philadelphia en route to an All-Pro season with a career-high 13.5 sacks. Matthews' quickness on the snap could give the 6-7 Strief a long night. The Saints' sixth-year veteran out of Northwestern has never been a full-time starter with only seven career starts. He'll need help from running backs Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. Thomas and Ingram are tenacious blockers who don't mind sticking their nose in there and taking on a bigger and stronger linebacker like Matthews. The only question is that Ingram, a rookie, hasn't done it on this level yet.

Packers TE Jermichael Finley vs. Saints OLBs Will Herring and Martez Wilson: Finley not only expects to play Thursday night after missing the last part of the preseason with an ankle sprain, but he expects to play big under the bright lights in the league's nationally televised opener. It will be Finley's first meaningful action since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October last year. He was on pace for 84 catches after the first quarter of the season. If the ankle is good, the 6-foot-5 Finley should be a prime target over the middle for Aaron Rodgers. The 6-foot-3 Herring, a free-agent signee from Seattle, is the projected starter on the strong side, but Wilson, a third-round draft pick out of Illinois this year, has the better size (6-foot-4), athleticism and speed (40 time of 4.49 seconds to lead all linebackers at the Scouting Combine) to possibly keep up with Finley.

Packers CB Tramon Williams vs. Saints WR Marques Colston: Williams emerged as Green Bay's top shutdown guy last season, when he finished the regular season and playoffs with a team-high nine interceptions and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. The Louisiana native is relishing the opening-night matchup with the Saints and particularly Colston, to whom the 5-foot-11 Williams is giving up 5 inches. Williams, a nickel back at the time, wasn't involved in Colston's lone catch — 70 yards for a touchdown — in the Saints' blowout win when the teams last met in 2008 at New Orleans. Colston also scored his first NFL touchdown (35 yards) at the Packers' expense as a rookie in 2006, when the Saints prevailed at Lambeau Field.

Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Saints CBs Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter: With Aaron Rodgers continuing to move up the list of the league's elite passers, Jennings has stepped up as well and is a dangerous weapon when the Packers go to the air. The Saints ranked fourth in pass defense last season, however, so Greer, Porter and nickel corner Patrick Robinson have the ability to keep Jennings under control. They'll have to, because Finley's presence will make it difficult to keep two defenders on Jennings, like Philadelphia did in the playoffs as the only team to keep Jennings in check during the final 11 regular-season games and the postseason.

Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Saints QB Drew Brees: Woodson is starting to get up in age, but he's still a valuable asset to the Packers' superb defense as he proved during their impressive run to a Super Bowl title last season. The wily Woodson is known for his ability to roam the secondary and defensive coordinator Dom Capers utilizes his abilities to the fullest to confuse offenses. Brees will have to be aware of Woodson at all times because the Saints' frequent use of three- and four-receiver sets will put Woodson in the slot, where he's most dangerous.


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