Secondary's woes continue

The way the Green Bay Packers came out of the blocks Sunday, they really had no need for their defensive backs. But once Drew Brees and Reggie Bush settled down, the Saints found holes in Green Bay's defense, mainly in the secondary.'s Todd Korth explains.

Al Harris was treated for leg cramps in the second quarter, but most of Green Bay's secondary was ailing after the game from getting burned. Saints quarterback Drew Brees picked up where Rex Grossman left off last week, scorching the secondary en route to a come-from-behind victory.

Brees passed for 353 of the Saints' 380 total yards. Green Bay's defense, for the most part, shut down the Saints' rushing attack of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. Aside from his 23-yard touchdown run, McAllister was held to 47 yards rushing on 12 carries. Bush caught eight passes, mainly in the flat, but the Packers kept him in check for 68 yards receiving on eight catches.

The defensive line put consistent pressure on Brees, especially early on when it forced two straight turnovers, but Brees and the Saints took advantage of mismatches in the secondary as the Saints bounced back from a 13-0 deficit to win, 34-27 on Sunday.

Safety Nick Collins and cornerback Ahmad Carroll were the main victims, but they didn't get much help from veterans Charles Woodson or Marquand Manuel.

One of the lowpoints for the secondary occured in the third quarter with the game tied 20-20. Carroll was penalized for pass interference on 6-foot-4 rookie Marques Colston, giving New Orleans the ball and a first down at the Packers' 35. On the next play, Brees hit Colston, who easily beat Collins, in the end zone as the Saints went up 27-20.

It was just one of a handful of plays that the secondary surrendered to the Saints. A week earlier, Grossman and the Bears sliced and diced the secondary in a similar way in Chicago's 26-0 win. Grossman completed 18 of 26 yards for 262 yards and a touchdown.

If the secondary was not a concern of the Packers prior to the season, it is now.

"Naturally when you give up big plays, you're concerned," said Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. "We have to finish on the ball. Guys were in position to make a play. We just got to make 'em. A couple of times in the passing game there were a couple of bad calls, and I put those on myself. That's my responsibility. We've got to continue to learn from our mistakes and try to get better. Learn how to finish on that top end."

Green Bay was especially defenseless in the secondary when Harris was forced to miss most of the second quarter with leg cramps. While Harris was in the locker room getting treatment, Brees and his receivers were torching Carroll and Collins.

Carroll, filling in for Harris, was completely faked out by wide receiver Devery Henderson on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brees. Henderson put on a double move at the 10-yard line, and left Carroll behind to make an easy catch for a touchdown as the Saints took a 14-13 lead with 56 seconds left in the half.

Brees wound up throwing for 129 of his 192 first-half passing yards in the second quarter.

"We had some mental breakdowns throughout the game," Collins said. "We might give up one or two, then we might stop them. We've got to improve on getting off the field on third down."

On New Orleans' previous drive, Brees spotted tight end Mark Campbell wide open for a 33-yard completion to the 3. Collins was covering on the play but his feet got tangled with Campbell and he fell to the turf.

Early in the third quarter, linebacker Brady Poppinga, beaten like a drum against the Bears, found himself in single coverage against Pro Bowler Joe Horn. Horn made a quick move inside to catch a short pass from Brees, turning it into a 57-yard gain to Green Bay's 23. The play led to a field goal.

Pin that mismatch on Sanders, who did a good job of keeping Poppinga off the field for most of the day by using nickel packages extensively. But Poppinga didn't help himself by aligning too wide of Horn prior to the snap, according to Sanders.

In any case, where was the help? Where was Manuel or Collins? As has been the case too many times already this season, nowhere to be found.

To their credit, Collins made a nice play to deflect a pass by Brees that Harris intercepted late in the first quarter. Woodson made a few nice plays to break up passes. Collectively, however, the secondary will continue to be tested until it shows that it can stop an offense. Thus far, it has fallen well short of expectations.

Todd Korth

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