The Green Bay Packers need to re-establish home field advantage at Lambeau Field and Sunday's match-up with the New Orleans Saints provides a good opportunity to do just that. The Saints have been the national favorite in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It's certainly something a guy like Brett Favre can relate to on a personal level. He knows what the Saints players are going through because he and his family are persevering through the same Gulf Coast catastrophe.
As a former player I can't even begin to imagine what the Saints players have been going through, moving to California at the beginning of training camp and not having a "home" game until the fourth week of the season. That game was played in San Antonio, Texas at the Alamo Dome. I can assure you that NFL players are creatures of habit. We like to have the same system, the same routine day in and day out. Through all of this, the Saints (2-2) are coming off a big win last week over the Buffalo Bills. The fact that New Orleans is 2-2 is a real testament to their team character and the leadership of Coach Jim Haslett.
The one thing that's been consistent about the Saints play, however, it's that they're inconsistent. They won at Carolina, lost to the Giants, lost to a poor Minnesota team and then came back to beat the Bills. The Packers, on the other hand, will come into this game looking for that first W while trying to build on the positives from the defeat at Carolina. I'm talking about a great team effort in the second half on Monday Night Football.
That game showed me that the players, especially the younger guys, learned that when they limit their penalties and create turnovers good things happen. The offense moved the ball, and the defense shut down a good offense. Against the Saints -- heck, for the rest of the season -- they need to put together four good quarters not just one or two. They've seen that they can do it and now they've got to continue that style of play right from the opening kickoff.
On Sunday Lambeau Field fans will find out which New Orleans quarterback shows up; quarterback Aaron Brooks can be spectacular or awful. The Saints brought in a new offensive coordinator, Mike Sheppard, who has tried to simplify things for Brooks and the offense this year. They limit the amount of motion and shifting, making the offense more vanilla. It gives Brooks a better chance to read defenses and it has helped him to a certain extent. He's an extremely gifted athlete, very mobile and strong-armed. But at times when the Saints haven't been successful running the ball, the "awful" Brooks takes too much upon himself and forces the issue. That's when he gets into trouble.
New Orleans also has a very capable running back in Deuce McAllister. He's coming off a 130-yard effort against Buffalo. If the Saints can get that running game to complement the passing game, the "spectacular" Brooks becomes a very dangerous quarterback. He can scramble and make plays outside the pocket as well as anyone in the league. McAllister is a big guy (6-1, 232) and he's probably faster on artificial turf than on natural grass. He will definitely present a real challenge to the Packers defense. If you give him a little daylight, he can take it to the house.
The Saints will be without starting wide receiver Joe Horn (hamstring), but Donte' Stallworth stepped up last week and had a huge day catching eight passes for 129 yards. Stallworth is similar to Steve Smith from Carolina, a smaller, shiftier guy that the Green Bay secondary must be concerned about.
Meanwhile the Packers were down to only three receivers against Carolina, and Favre will be facing a very stout Saints defensive front. Last week, left defensive end Darren Howard had two sacks against Buffalo and the right defensive end, Charles Grant, had seven solo tackles and one sack. These are guys that can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback coming off the edge. And, of course, the Packers will be facing their old friend, cornerback Mike McKenzie. The Packers receivers will be looking to take advantage of McKenzie and vice versa. McKenzie knows Favre and the Packers receivers, and they all know him and his weaknesses. It will be an interesting chess match and I'm sure Packer fans will have a "warm" welcome in store for McKenzie.
The bottom line for the Packers is: Can they put together four quarters like the second half they played against the Panthers? If the answer is yes, they should notch that first win and go into Bye Week in a positive frame of mind.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.