RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Packers finished with a pedestrian per-rush average of 3.8 yards, but Starks and Ryan Grant were more effective than that when called upon in a rotation setup. Grant (nine carries, 40 yards) made the start and stayed on the field extensively the first couple series as head coach Mike McCarthy went with the no-huddle. Grant's 10-yard run around right end early in the game was another good sign after going through a full preseason that he is healthy a year removed from the season-ending ankle injury he sustained in Week 1. Starks missed a big chunk of last season because of a hamstring injury, but he picked up where he left off in a productive postseason by churning out 57 yards in 12 carries Thursday. The second-year back averaged six yards in his first five rushes — all in the second quarter, which he completed with an impressive 17-yard touchdown in which left guard T.J. Lang created a nice running lane on the second level and Starks broke three tackles before diving across the goal line. Lang and left tackle Chad Clifton sealed things off to the outside for fullback John Kuhn to score from a yard out on an inside handoff.
PASS DEFENSE: C — Granted, Drew Brees is one of the game's top gunslingers and will find a way to pile up the yards, but the 419 he amassed through the air out of 49 throws was way too many for a good Green Bay defense to allow. Even with the advantage seemingly in the Packers' favor with talented wideout Lance Moore deactivated because of a groin injury, the trio of Devery Henderson (six catches, 100 yards, 29-yard touchdown), Marques Colston (six catches, 81 yards) and Robert Meachem (five catches, 70 yards, 31-yard TD) stood out. Not to be outdone was scatback Darren Sproles, who not only hurt the Packers with some big returns on special teams but also was a thorn in their side on screens and checkdowns from Brees to lead New Orleans with seven receptions for 75 yards (long of 36). Sproles also drew a pass-interference penalty on linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was draped over his back in the end zone, to extend the game by one more play with the clock expired as the Saints tried in desperation to score a touchdown, to no avail. Defensive backs dropped at least two would-be picks. On the plus side, safety Nick Collins put his helmet on the ball to force a turnover by Colston early in the game, unblocked blitzing outside linebacker Erik Walden sacked Brees on third-and-2 from the Packers' 7-yard line in the third quarter, and outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman Jarius Wynn shed blocks to harass a backpedaling Brees into an errant throw on fourth-and-inches at the Green Bay 7 again later in the third.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus — The game ended on that extra play with a goal-line stand by the Packers on a power run out of I formation by heralded rookie Mark Ingram from the 1. The Saints curiously ran Ingram to the right of center and right into the immovable strong side of Green Bay's beefy front. Ryan Pickett gave himself up to plow under a few defenders, allowing Matthews from the outside and hard-hitting safety Morgan Burnett over the top to find Ingram and take him down well short of the end zone. The Packers had a similar big stop on Ingram for no gain on third-and-1 at the Green Bay 7 in the third quarter as Wynn, lined up on the right side, drove hard into tight end David Thomas off the snap and had the presence of mind to come off the block and take down Ingram. Ingram, as the featured back in his pro debut, was ineffective with 13 carries for just 40 yards. Pierre Thomas, on the other hand, gashed the defense for a gaudy average of 6.2 yards per carry, thanks in large measure to a 21-yard burst through three would-be tackles in the opening quarter. An innocuous third-quarter run by Thomas resulted in a punch being thrown by Charles Woodson on a clutching Thomas behind the play, and the veteran cornerback was lucky to not have been tossed from the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — Cobb etched his name in the NFL record book in his stupendous pro debut. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter — a runback that never should have happened because Cobb was supposed to take a knee for a touchback in catching the football that deep in the end zone — tied the league standard set by New England's Ellis Hobbs in 2007. Kuhn had a big assist on the play, holding up Cobb after the rookie spun on a hit by Leigh Torrence at the Packers' 25 and sending Cobb in the clear to the end zone. Cobb averaged 67.5 yards in his two chances to return the kickoff. He had only one crack as the punt returner and picked up all of five yards. Mason Crosby had touchbacks on four of his seven kickoffs. Veteran receiver Donald Driver flew in to snare the football on a high bounce on a Saints onside kick in the final minutes. Green Bay's coverage units reverted back to their maddening ways of giving up big returns, however. Sproles scored on a 72-yard punt return in the second quarter as Pat Lee was knocked off his pursuit angle of reaching Sproles on the catch and then Brad Jones slipped in trying to make a tackle at the Saints' 30. Sproles also had a 20-yard punt return, and his 57-yard kickoff return after Cobb's spectacular runback set up a touchdown in the third quarter. Sproles turned Tim Masthay's gross average of 42.5 yards in four punts into an abysmal net of 14.5 yards.
COACHING: B — So much for McCarthy trying to downplay in the preseason what role, if any, the no-huddle would have in his play calling for the offense. He made liberal use of it at the outset and coupled with consistently spreading things out with multiple receivers and a single back, huge dividends were realized with the 21 points on the scoreboard after the first three series. Thanks in part to playing with a good-sized lead most of the game, McCarthy was able to incorporate the run and give some semblance of balance (37 pass plays to 26 run plays, not counting a knee taken by Rodgers to end the first half). For a rare time in his two-plus years as the coordinator, Dom Capers will have plenty of cleaning up to do in the next week with a pass defense that was undressed by Brees' 400-plus passing yards. The coaches' film review Friday also revealed 10 missed tackles by the defense. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum already is confronted by the all-too-familiar coverage problems, but he made the right call in going with the electrifying Cobb in both return roles after fellow rookie Alex Green was being considered to run back kickoffs
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