Packers defense facing stiffest challenge

Saints offense No. 2 overall


GREEN BAY—The Packers defense will face its stiffest challenge of the season to date this Sunday, against the league's No. 2 offense and one of the game's elite quarterbacks.

"He's one of the real upper-echelon quarterbacks," Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "You have to find a way to break his rhythm."

In games against Brees in 2011 and '12, Brees passed for a combined 865 yards and six touchdowns. The Packers won each of those games, however, largely because Brees' counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, threw for a combined seven touchdowns in those games.

Capers believes his defense has the talent to play better than it did in the most recent meetings between the two teams.

"We've got a more athletic group overall," Capers said, and a more athletic defense is necessary against an offense that has "so many weapons and spreads the ball around so much.

"They'll stretch you vertically and horizontally. They throw the ball a lot to their backs. They get a lot of people out in the routes, so he has a lot of options," Capers added of Brees and a Saints offense that is No. 2 in the league in big plays.

Tight end Jimmy Graham is the mystery man. He's recovering from a shoulder injury that left him largely ignored in last Sunday's loss in Detroit. When he's healthy, Graham is one of the league's star receivers. He leads the Saints with 34 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's a basketball player and that's the way he plays football," Capers said of Graham.

Offensively, the Packers will be facing a Saints defense whose rankings are trending toward the bottom third of the league. The Saints defense is No. 21 overall, No. 28 against the pass.

"They take different approaches in different games. They play the opponent instead of playing a couple of defenses week in and week out," Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "We have a plan. We'll implement it and if they do something we hadn't anticipated, we'll adjust."

Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum believes his return units are close to breaking a return for a long gain or better. He cited two returns by Randall Cobb last Sunday that had long-gain potential.

"We have guys that can do it. We need to block better and get it done; quit talking about it and score," Slocum said.

On the fast track of the Louisiana Superdome, special teams could become a deciding factor in Sunday's game.

"The ball flies well inside, so you usually have spacing. The surface is fast. Players run faster," Slocum said.

Brees and Rodgers, of course, will likely decide the outcome of a game that is being billed as a shootout.


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