Can the Saints Slow Down the Packers Running Game?

The Packers lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (208.5) and per attempt (6.2). The Saints are 8th in rushing yards allowed (101.0 per game) and 4th in yards per attempt (3.3). It’s only been 2 games, so take from that what you will. Given Davante Adams’ uncertain status, and the lack of passing game weapons the Packers have (other than Aaron Rodgers of course), our take is that the winner of this matchup on the ground will determine the winner of this game.

The Packers’ running game is based largely on zone running concepts. At a high level, the objective of these types of runs is to enable the offensive line to block defenders in a particular zone or area of the field. This enables them to more easily respond to different fronts and stunts, as well as other looks on the fly. It also gives the running back options – Hit the hole at the point of attack or cut back. Zone runs often get the defense flowing and over-pursuing, leading to large running lanes. So if you can get the defensive front moving sideways, that’s half the battle, like on this Week 1 run by Aaron Jones against the Vikings.

The Saints Defense is well equipped to handle these zone runs, though. Their defensive line is faster and more physical than what the Packers have seen so far in 2020. They do a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage and penetrating into the backfield instead of moving side to side with the flow of the offensive line. They also do a good job of preventing the ball carrier from getting to the edge quickly.

Watch the paths of David Onyemata (#93) and Trey Hendrickson (#91) below as they got upfield and disrupted this zone run against the Buccaneers in Week 1:

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Safety Malcolm Jenkins (#27) also did a good job of coming up fast off the edge to seal the outside.

From last week’s game against the Raiders, you can see the Saints defensive line living on the other side of the line of scrimmage:

Edge set, penetration inside, controlling the line of scrimmage? All ingredients for defending the running game, and in particular, zone runs. We saw this multiple times against the Raiders on Monday Night.

Below, keep your eyes on Malcolm Roach (#97) and watch him penetrate the A-gap to the play side, giving running back Josh Jacobs nowhere to go other than back inside to the teeth of the Saints Defense.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Linebacker Alex Anzalone (#47) did a good job of attacking the line of scrimmage quickly and filling the gap to make the tackle here. We’ve seen good team defense against the run so far from the Saints. They are 5th in the NFL in TFL (tackles for loss) for a reason.

If the Saints can limit the effectiveness of Green Bay’s running game, and that’s still a big if, the Packers don’t have the receiving weapons like the Raiders do to make them pay consistently. With no Davante Adams, or at least a compromised Adams, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints increase their usage of man coverage and put more pressure on Packers receivers. Look for the Packers to respond by finding ways to manufacture open receivers using stacks, bunches, dual crossers, picks, and rubs, like they did often last week against the Lions:

Our prediction: The Saints Offense has certainly been a concern through the first two weeks of the season. This week, they get back on track against a Packers Defense that has issues of its own. New Orleans’ defense should also be able to do just enough to slow down the Packers’ running game and get the Saints back in the win column.

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