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LICKING THEIR CHOPS: Saints “D” Could Have Big Day vs. Hurting Packers O-Line

For Saints defensive end Cam Jordan and the rest of the team's defensive line, their performance in the last 3 games have been nothing short of remarkable.

In their current 3-game winning streak, the Saints defense — boosted mostly in part by the surge of Jordan and the rest of the defensive line — has tallied 13 sacks, including 4 of them by Jordan himself.

Jordan had 2 sacks against Detroit last Sunday, along with 6 total tackles (2 for a loss), 3 passes tipped or batted down and a "Pick 6" in the end zone off Lions QB Matthew Stafford during the team's 52-38 win; and as a result was named yesterday as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Photo courtesy of Scott Threlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

Unbelievably: it was the first time ever that Jordan won the award now in his 7th NFL season, and the first Saints defensive end to win the award since Darren Howard in Week #4 of the 2005 "Hurricane Katrina Season" (a 19-7 win over Buffalo at the San Antonio Alamodome).

Sheesh — talk about being completely overlooked.

Yes, Jordan has been notably "snubbed" throughout his career; but that fact that it was only his first-ever such accolade in that regard (player of the week), borders on being downright criminal.

Nevertheless, now this coming Sunday with a trip to the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin on tap; you can bet that Jordan and the rest of the Saints D-Line will be "licking their chops".

The reasons for that?

The first reason of course is that new Packers starting QB Brett Hundley will be making the first-ever start of his young 3-year NFL career, in place of injured All-Pro Aaron Rodgers, who likely has been lost for the entire remainder of the Packers season to a broken collarbone.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

And the other reason — perhaps on an even much more grander scale?

It’s because as of this moment, the Packers' offensive line is a living, breathing disaster.

The Packers starting O-Line has been essentially ridiculed by injuries and other health issues, starting with veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga – who has missed multiple games with a recurring ankle injury and then an illness; before he left this past Sunday's loss to Minnesota with a concussion.

Meanwhile, starting left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener and then missed the next 4 games before returning for the game at Minneapolis – but then he re-aggravated the hamstring ailment and is out of the line-up once again.

Even worse?

Bulaga and Bakhtiari’s back-ups  — reserve linemen Don BarclayKyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs, all 3 of whom are capable of playing either tackle spot, are all on injured reserve.

And then to add insult to injury (literally): veteran guard Lane Taylor moved over from his normal spot to fill in at tackle earlier this season, but then even he too was carted off with a knee injury against the Vikings.

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

 

Talk about “snake-bitten”.

 

Yesterday, the injury-ravaged Packers listed a whopping 14 players on the Wednesday injury report, which included those three starters on the offensive line.

By comparison: the Saints only listed just two players (Terron Armstead and Willie Snead, both of whom are expected to play).

Both Belaga and Bakhtiari were limited in practice yesterday for the Packers, and of this moment their availability for this Sunday's game remains up in the air.

That could certainly make life very difficult against a red-hot Saints defense, and it could also mean trouble as well for the Packers running game in an attempt to take some of the pressure off Hundley.

As noted by ESPN.com staff writer Bill Barnwell in his column the other day:  the Packers did little on the ground on in their loss to the Vikings last Sunday despite getting back RB Ty Montgomery, as he combined with Hundley and fellow RB Aaron Jones to run for 65 yards on 20 carries after Rodgers left the game.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Barnwell adds that teams haven't been able to "load up the box" against Rodgers out of fear that he'll torch them downfield; and that opposing defenses have stuffed the box with eight or more men on just 10.2 percent of Green Bay running plays since the beginning of 2014, the 5th-lowest rate in football.

However, it's unlikely that Hundley will command such respect; and as New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill said in his fantastic film study on Tuesday (click HERE to read): after primarily using a 4-man defensive line since taking over as defensive coordinator, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has been typically putting only three defensive linemen on the field in passing situations — which then allows them to bring blitzers from all over the field.

Underhill says that with only 3 men on the line, it's hard to tell where New Orleans is going to bring pressure. Sometimes its with the linebackers. Sometimes it's with a cornerback. Sometimes even a safety.

Against Detroit last week, another team who also had similar injury issues to their offensive line; the Saints blitzed on nearly half of Matthew Stafford’s dropbacks, putting them over a 40-percent rate for the third week in a row. 

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

“Detroit was banged up with some of their offensive linemen,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said to Underhill in an one-on-one interview.

“I think if you start having success, then you generally start repeating success if you can offensively, and the same thing would be defensively. But I mean, defensively, if you can send a certain pressure and it gets home, you’re probably going to send that again. I thought Dennis, the last few weeks, we’ve been real good that way.”

Underhill notes that he aggressive approach meant that Stafford was under constant pressure. It helped the Saints defensive line — and specifically Cam Jordan, who might have played the best game of his entire career up to this point  — put up a ton of QB pressures; as well as gave the Saints defense the opportunity as an entire unit, to record another 5 sacks to add to their season total of 16 through 5 games.

By comparison: the Saints ONLY had 30 sacks in an entire 16 games, last season.

It's the reason why that with the Packers O-Line being in the shape that it's currently in, coupled with Hundley making his 1st-ever NFL start, that you can bet that Jordan and the rest of the Saints "D" will be "licking their chops" at Lambeau Field, come this Sunday...............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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