The Mercedes-Benz Superdome — home of the New Orleans Saints — has been a house of horrors for the Green Bay Packers this century.
The Packers were 0-3 at New Orleans with an average margin of defeat of 19.3 points. Green Bay allowed a ridiculous 43.3 points per game. And Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (five) and Brett Favre (one) combined to throw six interceptions in those losses.
That changed Sunday, when the Packers went into the Superdome and downed the Saints, 37-30. Here’s the good, bad and ugly from Green Bay’s victory.
AARON RODGERS: Much was made after the 2019 season that Rodgers was showing signs of slippage. Even his own bosses had their doubts and drafted his potential replacement when they selected Jordan Love in the first round of April’s draft.
But Rodgers is off to a torrid start in 2020.
Three games in, Rodgers has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s thrown for 295.7 yards per game and has completed 71-of-106 passes (67.0%)
Rodgers didn’t have Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams (hamstring), but still completed 21-of-32 passes for 283 yards and three scores.
Green Bay has also scored 122 points in its first three games, the fifth-most in NFL history.
“Right now our offense, I feel really good about it,” Rodgers said. “We’ve gotten in a good flow. I feel like again (head coach) Matt (LaFleur) got into a really nice flow with the calls.”
ALLEN LAZARD: Without Adams, Lazard stepped up with six receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown.
Lazard had a 72-yard reception early in the third quarter that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones. Lazard also had a 48-yard catch in the second quarter that set up his own 5-yard TD.
Lazard, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds at the 2018 NFL Combine, will never win his battles on speed. But he has terrific size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), reliable hands and is as tough as nails.
“Allen’s been just such a consistent performer for us, not only in the pass game but in the run game as well,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s our enforcer, I’ve said it numerous times.
“He is a guy that just continues to make plays and I’m so happy for him because if you go back to last year, the initial 53 (man roster), he wasn’t on it, and he’s earned everything that he’s gotten. I think he has got the respect of all his teammates. I can speak for the coaches, he’s got all our respect, and he has become a really, really consistent high-level player for our offense.”
TIGHT ENDS: The Packers haven’t gotten much production from their tight ends in 2020. That changed Sunday night, though.
Robert Tonyan caught a career-high five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round draft pick, had the first three regular season receptions of his career for 36 yards. And 36-year-old Marcedes Lewis had a magnificent 18-yard touchdown reception.
“I think that’s what makes this room special is they’re selfless,’ Packers tight ends coach Justin Outten said. “They’re going to do whatever it takes for us to be successful.
“In the passing game, those guys know that they’ve got to bust their butt every single time they get out on a route because it could be their number. There’s a progression in everything that we do.”
KINGSLEY KEKE: Green Bay has been waiting for someone on the defensive line to step up next to Kenny Cark. Perhaps it will be Keke, a defensive end taken in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
Keke sacked Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees twice and was in New Orleans’ backfield much of the night. Those were also the first two sacks of Keke’s career.
“I feel great, man,” Keke said. “Being able to get to the quarterback and help my team out, being disruptive and making some plays back there, helping my defense out.”
FAST START: When the Packers’ schedule was released in April, many felt they’d struggle out of the gate. Green Bay had away games at Minnesota and New Orleans — two of the toughest road venues in football — in the first three weeks.
That, of course, came before anyone knew there wouldn’t be fans in the stands — or limited crowds — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, the Packers have taken full advantage winning both of those road games and racing to a 3-0 start.
Green Bay is one of just six teams in the NFL to begin the year 3-0. And only Seattle and Chicago in the NFC have matched the Packers’ start.
This marks the fourth time since Aaron Rodgers became the starter in 2008 that the Packers began a season 3-0. The 2016 and 2019 teams opened 3-0 and both reached the NFC Championship Game before losing. The 2011 Packers also won their first three games and went 15-1 in the regular season before losing in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
RUN DEFENSE: Much was made of Green Bay ignoring the wide receiver position in April’s draft. The bigger story, though, should have been the Packers failure to draft a defensive lineman.
Green Bay’s run defense was a sieve in 2019, and it’s been awful again in 2020.
The Packers were without nose tackle Kenny Clark (groin) Sunday and had no answers for New Orleans’ rushing attack. The Saints ran for 122 yards on 20 carries (6.1), including 104 yards on just 12 carries in the first half (8.7).
A year ago, Green Bay finished the regular season ranked 23rd in rushing defense (120.1) and 24th in yards allowed per carry (4.7). This season, the Packers are even worse.
Through three games, the Packers are allowing 5.5 yards per rush and 115.0 rushing yards per game.
“I think there was a lot of good and stuff that we’ve just got to be more consistent with as a defense,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “There are times where we’re firing at a high level and then there are times where teams get big plays or consistently march the ball down the field. Although we’re happy with the win, there’s a lot to improve upon.”
CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY: The Packers let inside linebacker Blake Martinez walk in free agency and elected to replace him with injury-plagued Christian Kirksey. While Kirksey runs better than Martinez, he hasn’t been able to stay on the field in recent years.
Kirksey played in just two games in 2019 with Cleveland, before suffering a torn pectoral tendon that required season-ending surgery. In 2018, Kirksey also played in just seven games before going on the injured reserve list with a hamstring injury.
On Sunday, Kirksey left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. The Packers knew that signing Kirksey was risky business, and it cost them against the Saints.
TACKLING: Green Bay’s tackling in space was comical all night. Alvin Kamara’s 52-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was a microcosm of that.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees flipped the ball to Kamara in the left flat. Packers reserve safety Will Redmond had the first shot at Kamara, but whiffed.
Backup linebacker Ty Summers missed a tackle, so did cornerback Jaire Alexander and safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Green Bay’s laughable tackling allowed Kamara to reach the endzone and tie the game, 27-27.
Kamara finished the night with seven broken tackles. But on a night where the Packers’ tackling resembled a Pop Warner team, this play included many of their lowlights.
“Alvin Kamara is a great player,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “He does this consistent, makes people miss and creates big plays, and we knew that was going to be one of the keys to the game – being able to neutralize him and certainly he had too many good plays on us (Sunday).”