For a group of players that hasn't been bashful about making plenty of noise with its play on the field, the Packers secondary is unequivocally understated this week as it prepares for its biggest test of the season.
"We're going to be nice and calm about it," safety Nick Collins said Wednesday. "We ain't trying to get nobody riled up about this game. We're just going to go out there and play our game. We ain't going to try to feed into the hype or nothing like that. We're just going to play Packer football."
A colossal showdown within a key intra-conference matchup between the Packers and the fellow 5-5 New Orleans Saints looms Monday night at the Superdome.
The Drew Brees-led Saints have the NFL's top passing offense, averaging 319.7 yards per game. The playmaking-laden Packers counter with the league's third-rated pass defense, which is allowing an average of 176.3 yards per outing.
The old cliche of "something's gotta give" may come to pass and, if so, probably will be the telling point of the final outcome in a must-win game for both teams.
For their outwardly quiet countenance, Green Bay's defensive backs are a confident bunch ready to add another big play or two at the expense of Brees to their record-breaking production this season.
"They're exciting to watch in the secondary," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "It's almost like quarterbacks are aiming at our guys because they get so many interceptions."
Green Bay leads the league with 16 interceptions – all by the guys on the back end of the defense. The Packers also are unsurpassed in completion percentage (51.5) and passer rating (59.5) by opposing quarterbacks.
Outside of the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, whom the Packers held in check en route to a 34-14 home win in Week 7, they haven't faced a quarterback like Brees this season, however. Brees, who has completed 66.8 percent of his passes, has thrown for league highs of 3,251 yards and 43 explosive passes of at least 20 yards.
Collins said keeping plays in front of them, as they did against the Colts, is critical for the Packers' defensive backs to stifle the Saints' high-powered vertical attack. Green Bay has allowed only 21 passes of at least 20 yards, fourth fewest in the league.
The return of Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris, after he missed four games earlier in the season because of a ruptured spleen, has been a boon. Harris has given up only one completion in the three games he's been back.
Incidentally, Harris is seeking his first interception in a season that already has been a memorable one for the defense, which has a franchise-record seven touchdown returns. The league record for a season is 10 by the 1998 Seattle Seahawks.
Collins, who came under fire after an interception-less 2007 season, has led the scoring barrage with runbacks on three of his co-league-high five interceptions – tied with teammate Charles Woodson.
"The way that we've gotten interceptions is just tremendous," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "You can't say enough about what they're doing. I think probably one of the biggest jumps has been our safeties are doing such a tremendous job of ball-hawking and getting after things. All of that is correlating into really helping us."
NOTES & QUOTES
Driver was excused from the team so he could return to his hometown of Houston and be with his hospitalized father, Marvin Jr.
Driver's family alleges that Marvin was beaten by police when he was arrested during a traffic stop early Monday morning. Instead of being taken to jail, Driver's family claims that Marvin was found lying on the ground bloody and unconscious and had to be picked up by paramedics and transported to a hospital.
Houston police give a different account of what happened in the police statement for the arrest on outstanding traffic warrants, saying Driver was "unresponsive" after he was taken to jail and then was moved to the hospital.
Driver already was going to be held out of Packers practice Wednesday and Thursday to give him a chance to recover from various minor injuries, including turf toe and a bruised knee.
McCarthy said Wednesday the "intent" is to have Driver rejoin the team in time to play in Green Bay's game at the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. …
While the Saints had the day off Wednesday, the Packers went through a light 90-minute practice in the afternoon. McCarthy had given his players two and a half days off after they beat the Chicago Bears 37-3 on Sunday.
Having an extra day ahead of the Monday game enabled the coaches to spread the typical Wednesday practice over two days. The Packers did mostly individual drills out of pads Wednesday.
"I just wanted to make sure that we did most of our heavy work closer to the game," McCarthy said. "In the past, I've done the heavier work in the beginning of the week preparing for Monday night football games. I prefer it later in the week, particularly the padded work. So I wanted to give them an extra half a day really to rest and get an extra lift in this week. We come off three very physical football games." …
With middle linebacker Nick Barnett set to undergo reconstructive surgery Thursday for a torn ACL in his right knee – an injury he sustained in the Nov. 9 loss at the Minnesota Vikings – the Packers figure to make a roster move by the end of this week. They have kept him on the 53-man roster more than a week after the season-ending injury was revealed. …
In the wake of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb's admission that he didn't realize NFL games could end in ties after the Eagles played the Cincinnati Bengals to a stalemate Sunday, McCarthy addressed the matter with his players in a team meeting Wednesday.
"I think all of our players, if they didn't know, they know for sure now," McCarthy said with a slight smirk. …
McCarthy on returning to coach a game in New Orleans for the first time since he was the Saints' offensive coordinator from 2000-04: "I have a lot of respect for the people down there, even the fans. They have excellent fans. It will be an incredible atmosphere Monday night in the dome. A big part of our business is the personal relationships that you build throughout your travels. And I had a very positive experience in New Orleans, and it will be neat to go back there for the first time."
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