Behind Enemy Lines: Part III

Our Scout.com experts, Bill Huber of Packer Report and Matthew Postins of Saints Insider, go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Sunday's Week 12 matchup between the Packers and Saints at the Superdome. Let's finish this three-part series with some matchups to watch and final predictions.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS OFFENSE VS. SAINTS DEFENSE
RB Ryan Grant vs. LB Jonathan Vilma:
The Saints haven't had many highlights on defense this season, but Vilma is one of them. Acquired for a fourth-round pick during the offseason, he immediately took control of the middle linebacker position and made himself the focal point of New Orleans' 4-3 defense. He leads the team with 94 tackles. More importantly, his relentless pursuit of the football made the Saints a viable run-stopping defense in October. He's one of the few players for this D that has met expectations this year.

After a slow start, Grant has rushed for at least 75 yards in each of his last five games, and he's coming off a 145-yard performance against Chicago. The Packers hum on offense when Grant is a big part of the game plan, so the Saints have to limit his effectiveness. And that starts with Vilma.

OTs Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher vs. DEs Will Smith and Bobby McCray: The biggest challenge of playing in a dome is crowd noise, and the Packers' offensive line didn't handle it well two weeks ago in Minnesota. The big problem with a loud crowd is pass protection on the perimeter, so the onus will be be on offensive tackles Clifton (vs. right defensive end Smith, who has three sacks) and Tauscher (vs. left defensive end McCrary, who has four).

Give Aaron Rodgers time, and he should have success against a suspect Saints secondary that is without former Packer Mike McKenzie (broken kneecap) and standout rookie Tracy Porter (wrist) at cornerback.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: SAINTS OFFENSE VS. PACKERS DEFENSE
WR Marques Colston vs. Green Bay Secondary:
With just 15 receptions after missing most of the first half of the season with an injury, the third-year Hofstra product is looking for consistency. Two weeks ago, he caught seven passes for 140 yards. Last week, he caught three passes for 30 yards. During his absence, QB Drew Brees became more reliant on players like Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, which was good for the overall offense but bad for Colston.


WR Marques Colston
Stu Forster/Getty Images

The Packers secondary isn't great, but it does have a big-play element with S Nick Collins and CB Charles Woodson. I would expect Colston to get a lot of attention early in the game. He'll need to use his size to create some separation, make some early catches and get into a rhythm with Brees, something he could not do last week. The Saints' playoff hopes are against the wall, and they need their big-play threat to be involved.

QB Drew Brees vs. Green Bay Secondary: In one of the most intriguing matchups in the NFL this season, the prolific Brees takes on the Packers' stingy secondary. Brees isn't the most talented quarterback in the league, but he's certainly among its smartest and most accurate. Even though top threat Colston has started only three games because of a thumb injury, Brees is on pace to smash Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yardage. Helping him is an offensive line that has yielded only eight sacks.

But Brees hasn't faced a defensive backfield with this much depth. There might not be a team in the league that can match Woodson, Al Harris and Tramon Williams at cornerback, and Collins is having a breakout season at safety. Then again, the Packers' resume has been built largely against bad quarterbacks. Something has to give.

THE SAINTS WILL WIN THIS GAME IF ...
... they can get the running game going and don't commit too many mistakes on defense. RB Reggie Bush should be back this week, and that gives the Saints a boost. They'll be able to use three backs: Bush, Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas. Combined, they should be able to consistently gain yards against an average Packers run defense. As for the Saints defense, if they can stop giving up multiple pass plays of 20 or more yards, that would help.

THE SAINTS WILL LOSE THIS GAME IF ...
... the Packers can slow down Brees. It is possible, even if a defense gives up a lot of yards. Atlanta gave up 422 passing yards to Brees but induced three interceptions and won, 34-20. The Saints are giving Brees so much to do that mistakes are inevitable. If the Packers can get a lead and be patient on defense, opportunities will arise that will allow them to stymie Brees and the passing game.

THE PACKERS WILL WIN THIS GAME IF ...
... their running game continues to surge. Green Bay surprisingly ran all over the Bears last week, and this week will face a Saints defense that ranks 19th against the run. Getting massive nose tackle Hollis Thomas back from his torn triceps will help, and the Packers must account for Vilma on every play. Running the ball effectively will help take the crowd out of the game and open up the play-action game that Rodgers runs so effectively.


LB A.J. Hawk
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

THE PACKERS WILL LOSE THIS GAME IF ...
... Bush makes a couple of big plays either as a runner, receiver or returner. Brees is a franchise quarterback, but the Packers have to like the matchups in the secondary. What they can't like is matching up with Bush. He isn't a great between-the-tackles runner, but if the gap-control problems that have haunted the Packers defense all season surface again, Bush will be off to the races. And middle linebacker A.J. Hawk won't be able to stay with Bush in the passing game in base formations.

FINAL PREDICTIONS
Matthew Postins:
The Saints showed some resiliency last week, but still played a close game with moribund Kansas City. I don't think their defense played that much better than in previous weeks, so if the Saints win it will be on Brees' arm, and I think the strain of being "The Only Guy" is starting to show. The dome will be noisy but the Packers are the better team, although they'll need a lot of points to win ... PACKERS 35, SAINTS 27.

Bill Huber: I think the Packers turned a corner last week. I think the Packers' pass defense is good enough to slow the Saints' high-powered attack. I think the Packers will be able to run the ball good enough. I think the Packers will give Rodgers enough protection to allow him to take advantage of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson vs. the Saints' secondary. I think the disparity in turnover ratio — the Packers are plus-7 while the Saints are minus-5 — will make the difference. But with what we've seen out of this team for the first 10 games, who can say for sure? ... PACKERS 30, SAINTS 27.

To go back and read Part I, where Matthew answers five questions from Bill, Click Here. For Part II, where Bill answers five questions from Matthew, Click Here.

Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report. Matthew Postins is the Publisher of Saints Insider.


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