Elite QBs Rodgers, Brees haven’t played that way so far this season
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When it comes to offense, few teams in the NFL have been better over the past six seasons than the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
In fact, they’re the only teams that have finished in the top 10 in total yards since 2006 — which coincided with the hiring of Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy by the Saints and Packers, respectively.
You could hardly tell, however, as their offensive production has dipped dramatically in the first three games of the season.
The Saints (0-3) and Packers (1-2) have been anything but special on that side of the ball, which means both will be trying to get into a rhythm when they meet at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in Lambeau Field.
The early stages of the season have been a struggle for the Saints and Packers, who are both averaging about 100 yards fewer than they did in 2011 when they ranked 1-3 in the NFL in total yards.
The Saints are 10th with 377.3 yards per game, while the Packers, who have only five offensive touchdowns so far, are 25th at 304.3 yards a game.
The subpar numbers are surprising when you consider Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, two of the league’s elite quarterbacks, combined for more than 10,000 passing yards and 91 TD passes last season.
Brees, who was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2011, has a passer rating of 77.0 and is 25th in the league. Rodgers, the reigning MVP, is 16th with an 87.0 rating.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Brees said of the Saints, who still rank fifth in passing with 284.7 yards per game. “It’s not just one thing here and there. I think it’s everybody’s ability to just do things a little bit better.
“I’d say it just hasn’t been as crisp as it normally is and as we’re used to.”
In last week’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Saints had minus-16 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime on just 12 plays.
Saints receivers haven’t been able to get much separation from defensive backs, which has made it difficult for Brees, who has been under heavy pressure at times, to scan the field for his targets like he usually does.
“There is no one specific thing that’s been going wrong,” wide receiver Lance Moore said. “If a guy comes free on the defensive front, somebody’s got to get open quicker. If guys aren’t getting open and Drew’s got all day to throw, then he’s not going to be able to throw the ball anywhere.”
The Saints running game hasn’t been as productive, either, and they rank 22nd with just 92.7 yards per game. Part of the reason is double-digit deficits in the second half of their first two losses and they had to throw to catch up.
“It’s not necessarily a consistent thing, maybe it’s one guy here on one play,” said Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. “Sometimes it’s one group, sometimes it’s another group. All the positions are contributing to it. Starting with me, we all have to do a better job.
“Last week, obviously, the fourth quarter was very disappointing for us. When the opportunities are there, we have to make them.”
It sounds all too familiar to the Packers.
They had 268 total yards and one touchdown in their controversial final-play 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, and haven’t had more than 324 yards in a game after averaging 405.1 yards a game in 2011.
Rodgers was sacked eight times by the Seahawks — all in the first half — and has been dropped 16 times in the first three games.
“I’m confident our better days are ahead,” said McCarthy, the Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2000 to 2004. “I didn’t think we’d be where we are as I stand where I am right now, but we’ve had some rough patches. Catching the football has not been where it needs to be. And in our game Monday night, we obviously had protection issues the whole first half.”
While it appears defenses are playing the Saints and Packers differently to slow down their potent attacks, McCarthy said he hasn’t seen anything they didn’t expect.
“Frankly, we’ve had two opponents that dared us to run the ball and had one that dared us to throw it,” he said. “I think it’s a normal path that you take as a football team. People are playing to their strengths and how they feel they need to match up.”
While the Packers will go against a Saints defense that ranks 32nd in total yards and rushing, the Packers defense has been solid — ranking third in total yards (261.0) and first against the pass (125.3).
“I think the biggest thing is we need to stay the course,” Brees said. “We need to take a hard look in the mirror at what has gotten us beat these last three weeks. I can tell you this: We’ve got the right type of people and the right type of guys.”