WEEK 4: vs. New Orleans Saints
Date: Sunday, Sept. 30. Time: 3:25 p.m. TV: Fox.
2011 record: 13-3. Points scored: 547 (2nd). Points against: 339 (13th).
Noteworthy: The Saints will feature a new-look defense since the Packers won last year's season-opening shootout, 42-34. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams jumped to St. Louis but was suspended indefinitely for his role in the bounty scandal. Meanwhile, the Saints signed linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain along with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. The series: Since Mike McCarthy and the suspended Sean Payton took over their clubs, the Packers (63-33) and Saints (62-34) boast the NFC's best records.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
1. Avoid distractions. The Saints would love nothing more than to have a training camp that is devoid of the myriad distractions that dominated their offseason, which is what Payton asked of them when he left in April.
Payton asked his coaching staff and the players to simply do their jobs and get ready for a season that will be different without him and without acting head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
The Saints' record-setting offense will be under the spotlight because Payton won't be available, leaving offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. to call the plays. However, that transition shouldn't be as difficult as it normally would have been because Carmichael called the plays in the second half of the 2011 season after Payton fractured his leg.
2. A new-look defense will have to come together rather quickly. The Saints will get down to work under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose scheme is quite different than that of Gregg Williams.
Under Spagnuolo, the Saints will try to generate a pass rush from the front four instead of leaving their linebackers and secondary vulnerable at crucial times when Williams rolled the dice with all-out blitzes. Defensive ends will be called on to drop into zone coverage more than in the past.
Spagnuolo favors the zone defense because it limits the big plays that are prevalent these days. The Saints gave up 99 big plays last year on running plays of 10 yards or more or pass plays of 20 yards or more and the goal is to drop that to 75 or less.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Running back Mark Ingram: The Saints coaching staff felt Ingram, who had no real offseason because of the lockout, was just starting to scratch the surface when he was injured twice. Ingram, who had rushing games of 91 and 80 yards, suffered a heel injury in late October and then was sidelined with a turf toe injury in December. That put him on the bench for the final month of the regular season and he missed the playoffs after having surgery. Ingram also had a cleanup procedure on his knee in May, which knocked him out of the OTAs and June minicamp. But the Saints are hoping he'll be healthy for the start of training camp and have a productive season.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Kicker Garrett Hartley: The Saints have valued Hartley for his strong leg, but he missed the 2011 season because of a hip injury that he suffered in an exhibition game and was ably replaced by 42-year-old John Kasay. While Hartley was expected to return and resume his career this season, the Saints surprisingly re-signed Kasay, who was 28-of-34 on field-goal attempts last season and 2-for-2 in the playoffs, to push him with some bona fide competition in training camp. Even though it's not uncommon for teams to bring in an extra kicker for training camp, this move at least shows that the Saints' front office wanted to make sure Hartley, who has made 85.7 percent of his field-goal attempts since joining the team in 2008, has enough motivation to reclaim his job.
Want more on the Saints? CLICK HERE for a position-by-position training camp preview.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.