Packers vs. Saints: Keys to the game

The vultures are circling around the Green Bay Packers after their 26-0 drubbing against the Chicago Bears. Stopping Reggie Bush and the play of the offense and secondary are some of this week's keys to victory.

The Green Bay Packers are a team with plenty to prove.

ESPN spent much of Tuesday debating whether the Packers — 26-0 losers against Chicago — or Oakland — 27-0 losers to San Diego — are the worst team in the NFL.

National pundits have suggested it's time the Packers bench Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers.

The majority of their legion of fans nationwide has given up on the season, and many have given up on GM Ted Thompson and first-year coach Mike McCarthy.

It's left the players with an us-against-the-world mentality heading into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Defensive end Aaron Kampman, perhaps the Packers' best player last week, likes the team's attitude coming off that humiliating loss.

"Really, we've moved on," Kampman said. "I like the attitude. It's not a forget, happy-go-lucky-type attitude. But it's one of those that, hey, let's be singular in our purpose, let's be focused on the fact that we have another opportunity to play out here in Lambeau Field."

How can the Packers silence their growing legion of critics? Here are the five keys to Sunday's game.

Who's hungry?

Both teams should have plenty of motivation.

In Week 5 last season, an 0-4 Packers team blasted New Orleans 52-3.

In Week 1 of this season, well, you know what happened.

"I know they're probably going to be a little salty after their game," new Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "They beat up on the Saints pretty good last year. We need to come in with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and remember what happened last year and say we're not going to let that happen again."

The Packers, with the youngest roster in the NFL, looked a bit shellshocked when things quickly unraveled against Chicago. They can't afford a repeat if the Saints jump on them early.

Impeach Bush

Controversy is swirling around Saints' rookie sensation Reggie Bush. On Thursday night, a report on said Bush and his family accepted gifts, money and other benefits worth more than $100,000 while Bush was playing at Southern Cal.

Bush's ability to handle such a big distraction — regardless of whether the report is true — will play a role in his ability to impact Sunday's game. A lot is on Bush's plate between running the ball, catching passes and returning punts. Anything that takes away from his ability to prepare for the game or distracts him on Sunday can only help the Packers.

When Bush is the running back, expect the Saints to try to get him out in the flat against Packers linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga. Both have struggled mightily in coverage this year. When Bush is in the slot, he'll be a handful for cornerback Charles Woodson, though Woodson's speed gives him a chance to be effective.

While the Packers must focus on the speedy Bush, who gained a combined 141 yards last week, they can't lose sight of New Orleans' other playmakers. Joe Horn is one of the best receivers in the business, Deuce McAllister is a big-time running back and new fullback Vonta Leach certainly will want to run over a few Packers after they released him this week.

"With me and Deuce on the field and Joe Horn on the field, you've kind of got to pick your poison," Bush said.

Packers safety Marquand Manuel agreed.

"(Bush) poses a lot of different matchup (problems)," Manuel said. "He moves around a lot. But at the same time, people forget about Drew Brees, Joe Horn, and you've got Deuce."

Special teams

The controversial move made by Thompson this week has made this battle much more interesting, and even.

The Packers' coaching staff has to be sweating bullets at the prospects of the dangerous Bush running back punts. Green Bay's punt coverage was sound last week until a complete meltdown that left Chicago's Devin Hester a 10-yard-wide alley and an easy path to an 84-yard touchdown.

"What you saw in Hester is what you see in Bush — only bigger," special-teams coach Mike Stock said.

By picking up Koren Robinson, Thompson has given the Packers a Pro Bowl kickoff returner. Last year in Minnesota, he averaged an NFC-best 26.0 yards per runback and scored a touchdown. Certainly, with the Packers' offensive shortcomings — not to mention the lack of punch provided by returners Noah Herron and Robert Ferguson last week — some explosiveness can't hurt.

Secondary must step up

In last year's wipeout, Al Harris intercepted two passes and returned one of them for a touchdown. He was perhaps the league's most underappreciated cornerback.

It was a different story last week, as he and fellow starting corner Woodson were beaten surprisingly often by Chicago's substandard passing attack. Enter Brees, Horn and surprising rookie seventh-round pick Marques Colston, who already is being touted as the surprise of the draft.

About the only thing Green Bay's defense did well last week was defend Chicago's running attack. If the Packers can do that again, clean up the coverage mistakes and get the kind of play they expected from Harris and Woodson — Woodson should be able to stop a seventh-round pick, right? — they'll have a good chance at holding the Saints under 20 points and giving the team a chance to win.

On the offensive

You don't have to be a professional pundit to realize you need to score points to win games. New Orleans' defense ranks third in the league after one week, but the strong performance came against the offensively-impaired Cleveland Browns.

Still, New Orleans sacked the quarterback five times last week, with defensive tackle Brian Young picking up three of those. Favre was sacked three times last week, with much of that pressure coming up the middle and against struggling left tackle Chad Clifton. Clifton will face Will Smith, who had 16 sacks his first two seasons and one on Sunday.

Favre threw two interceptions against Chicago, but both of those came once the deficit had climbed to 26-0. Considering the Saints' Mike McKenzie-led secondary is nowhere near as good as the Bears' elite defensive backfield, Favre should quiet the critics for a week as long as he plays like he did for the first two-plus quarters against Chicago.

Ahman Green rushed for 110 yards last week, and certainly looks as quick as he did during his heyday. But many of those yards came once the game had been decided, so Sunday's game — assuming it stays close — should be a more accurate gauge of whether he's back. Regardless, the Packers, with William Henderson back at fullback, need to run the ball to give their undermanned passing attack a chance.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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