Packers-Saints keys to the game

After Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the Green Bay Packers will have their much-needed bye week. With the bruises mounting — both physical and mental — the Packers are a team desperately in need of a break to regroup.

They are also a team in desperate need of a win.

If the Packers can win Sunday, they'll have a few extra days to soak in the good feelings. If they can carry that win into the Oct. 23 NFC North "elimination" game with the equally disappointing Minnesota Vikings, perhaps the Packers will be 2-4. Heck, that could be good enough for first place in the division.

But first, the Packers must beat the Saints. Here are the five keys to doing just that.

1. Deuce not on the loose

The driving force behind the Saints' offense is all-everything running back Deuce McAllister. Given a better supporting cast and more team success, McAllister would be mentioned in the same sentence with the league's elite running backs. He missed two games last year but still rushed for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2002 and 2003, McAllister rushed for more than 3,000 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.

Run defense hasn't been the Packers' problem this season. On Monday night against a formidable Carolina running game, the Packers yielded only 90 yards on 33 attempts.

If the Packers can do the same with McAllister, then the onus will fall on quarterback Aaron Brooks to win the game.

2. Crooks with Brooks

Few quarterbacks in the league have the natural talent of Brooks. That was apparent during his one training camp in Green Bay in 1999. He has a rocket right arm and the quick feet to escape pressure.

The results, however, have not matched the potential. In four-plus seasons as the full-time starter, Brooks has completed only 56.5 percent of his passes— including 56.7 percent this year. In 2003, he threw 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, but reverted to form last year with 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. It's been more of the same this year, with two touchdowns and five interceptions.

The Packers, obviously, haven't forced turnovers with regularity since the 2003 season. Getting a couple takeaways against the Saints, however, is critical with the offense's struggles and injuries.

3. Fine line

Green Bay's offensive line has been a major disappointment, and things went from bad to worse with center Mike Flanagan having surgery this week and left tackle Chad Clifton a real question mark with a bum ankle.

Promising Scott Wells will replace Flanagan, which might be an upgrade given the aching knee that has limited Flanagan. If Clifton can't play, right tackle Mark Tauscher will move to the left side and U-71 tackle Kevin Barry will fill Tauscher's spot.

No unit on the field depends on cohesion as much as the offensive line. With Brett Favre under duress all season and the running game stuck in neutral, the shuffle up front — "new" starters at three of the five positions — does not bode well against an active Saints front four.

4. Sitting on the Davenport

Along with the injuries up front, there's a good chance Packers running back Ahman Green won't play. He hasn't practiced all week after injuring his quad against the Panthers. Like Clifton, Green is listed as questionable on the injury report.

If Green can't play, or his playing time is strictly limited, Najeh Davenport will get the start. Which Davenport will show up? Will it be the one who gouged the Rams for 178 yards on 19 attempts last year on "Monday Night Football" when he started in place of Green, or will it be the one who has rushed 43 times for 126 yards in his nine games since?

5. McKenzie vs. Driver

You remember Mike McKenzie, don't you? Talented cornerback who pouted his way out of town?

McKenzie is the ace of the Saints' secondary, and he'll lock up against the Packers' best receiver, Donald Driver, for much of the game. With Robert Ferguson ineffective, Antonio Chatman a role player, Javon Walker injured, Jamal Jones fresh off the practice squad and the running game stuck in mud, Driver is the Packers' only offensive playmaker. If Driver can get the best of McKenzie, the Packers will have a chance to move the ball. If not, it's going to be a long day.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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