Schedule Seven Points: Week 4 vs. Saints

The Packers will host the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 30. The Saints have been in the headlines all offseason because of the bounty scandal. That's where we lead off this story, but our final six items have an on-the-field focus, with looks at Graham vs. Woodson and the Saints' defensive upgrades.

Point 1: Crime, punishment, production

The Saints put the finishing touches on their offseason program Thursday with a scramble golf tournament for players, coaches and staff.

Acting head coach Joe Vitt said the golf outing, which counted as the last of 10 allotted organized team activities, was planned in advance by suspended coach Sean Payton before he had to leave the team in mid-April.

Despite an uneasy offseason that was filled with distractions, including a bounty system the NFL said was run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the suspension of Payton for the 2012 season, Vitt said the Saints did what Payton asked them to do before he left.

Vitt, who faces a six-game suspension at the start of the regular season, said the team heeded a plea from Payton to do their jobs -- which resulted in a productive nine weeks of strength and conditioning work as well as the OTAs and a full-squad minicamp.

While quarterback Drew Brees remained unsigned and not on the field with his teammates, Vitt was pleased how the Saints went about their business and got everything installed for the start of training camp on July 26.

"When you take a look at everything that we have gotten in during these OTAs, it's been outstanding," Vitt said. "The teaching has been great. Our coaches have done an outstanding job at evaluating the personnel that we have on our team; what's their strengths, what are their weaknesses."

In short, an offseason that began with the Saints losing All-Pro guard Carl Nicks in free agency and saw Payton, Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis and players Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith all disciplined for their roles in the bounty scandal hasn't been a disaster.

"I think Sean would be very, very proud with this coaching staff," Vitt said. "Sean would be very, very proud of the job the support staff has done from the trainers to equipment men to the cinematographers. When Sean left here there was one mandate: 'Do your job.' These guys have definitely done their job. We're not only excited about what took place and happened in the OTAs, we're really, really looking forward to getting to training camp."

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Point 2: Graham and Woodson

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had one of the greatest seasons by a tight end in NFL history, with his 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Against Green Bay, however, Graham was limited to a season-low four catches — on a season-low-tying seven targets — for 56 yards. Charles Woodson didn't match up with Graham for the entire game but the two squared off frequently. Unofficially, Graham was targeted just once when covered by Woodson, resulting in a 5-yard touchdown.

That's why the Woodson-to-safety talk is silly. Woodson's role will change on a play-to-play basis. Line up in a traditional two-back, two-receiver look, and Woodson will be at safety most of the time in what coordinator Dom Capers calls his "corner okie" package. Of course, team's don't line up that way too often in today's NFL. Woodson is so good at the line of scrimmage, which is where he plays in the Packers' nickel and dime packages, that why on earth would the coaches want to move him back 15 yards?

"I just continue to do the things I've done in the past," Woodson said. "You know, I play a little bit here, a little bit there, where I'm needed each week and make the team better."

Point 3: History lesson

Last year's season-opening game at Lambeau Field was an all-time thriller, with the Packers winning 42-34 behind Aaron Rodgers' three touchdown passes, a 108-yard touchdown on a kickoff return by Randall Cobb and a game-saving goal-line stand by Clay Matthews.

The 76 combined points in that game is typical when these teams meet. In fact, in the last six matchups between the teams, the average combined total is 64 points. The teams have split those games.

Point 4: History lesson, and learning from it

Like with Green Bay, New Orleans' defense started poorly and finished poorly. In a 36-32 loss to the 49ers in a divisional playoff game at San Francisco, Alex Smith lit up the Saints for 299 passing yards and three touchdowns. Twice in the fourth quarter, Smith rallied the Saints from behind.

To that end, the Saints gave their defense an extreme makeover during the offseason. While Green Bay focused mainly on the draft, the Saints put their efforts mostly into free agency. Curtis Lofton, an upgrade over Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker, was signed away from Atlanta, with David Hawthorne signed away from Seattle to start at one outside linebacker position and Chris Chamberlain signed away from St. Louis to challenge Scott Shanle at the other outside spot. Moreover, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was one of the league's best run-stuffers for Denver.

Point 4: Corner quandary

In 2009, cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Brett Favre to force overtime in the NFC Championship Game, then clinched the Super Bowl with a pick-six against Peyton Manning. Porter, however, signed with Denver during the offseason, meaning the Saints will need their younger cornerbacks to step up.

Jabari Greer is a solid starter and considered the Saints' best cover man. Patrick Robinson, a first-round pick in 2010 who was a consideration for the Packers, turned in a superb second season as the team's third corner. He allowed a passer rating of 59.3, good for seventh in the NFL among corners playing at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps.

They presumably give the Saints a solid one-two punch, but in today's NFL, two cornerbacks aren't enough. Johnny Patrick figures to be the third corner, but he played just 46 snaps all year. Elbert Mack, who started five games in four seasons with Tampa Bay, is the other option. However, Mack allowed 75.0 percent completions last year, among the worst in the league.

Point 6: Unsung heroes

Drew Brees' record-setting season ate up all the NFL headlines, which is unfortunate, because the Saints featured one of the great offenses in history because of their balance.

New Orleans, even without a so-called bellcow running back, finished sixth in the NFL with 132.9 rushing yards per game. Their 4.9-yard average tied for fourth, pretty impressive considering they were one of six teams without a 40-yard rush.

While first-round pick Mark Ingram was held to a pedestrian 3.9 yards per attempt, Darren Sproles averaged a ridiculous 6.6 yards a pop on his way to a league-record 2,696 all-purpose yards, followed by Pierre Thomas at 5.3 and Chris Ivory at 4.4.

Point 7: Rookie watch

The Saints were left without much of a draft. They sacrificed this year's first-rounder to get Ingram in the first round of the 2011 draft. Plus, they lost their second-round pick in the bounty scandal.

That left defensive end Akiem Hicks, a third-round pick from Canada, as the Saints' top pick. Hicks is projected to be a backup but has been compared to Richard Seymour. In a case of the rich getting richer, the Saints used a fourth-round pick on former Wisconsin receiver Nick Toon. Toon will wear the No. 88 that his father, Al Toon, wore in the NFL. He'll challenge to be the fourth receiver behind Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.

"Any young guy coming into this offense has got a lot to learn. He's got it down now ... runs good routes," offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael told reporters after a recent practice. "He's got great hands, great focus, great concentration."

Cornerback Corey White (fifth round), guard Andrew Tiller (sixth) and tackle Marcel Jones (seventh) round out a draft that shouldn't provide much immediate impact.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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