Surging Saints march into Lambeau, face Rodgers-less Packers
By GENARO C. ARMAS
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) This was supposed to be one of those marquee NFL games that would be dominated by the quarterbacks.
At least Brees will still be playing Sunday.
As for the depleted Packers, they must begin life without their two-time NFL MVP. Third-year pro Brett Hundley will make his first NFL start in place of the injured Rodgers when Green Bay hosts the rejuvenated Saints.
There's not much regular-season film on Hundley, other than his three-interception outing in the loss to Minnesota last week after Rodgers broke his right collarbone . This leaves New Orleans (3-2) preparing a bit for the unknown.
"I'd rather do that than prepare for Superman," said Kenny Vaccaro, referring to Rodgers and his penchant for late-game heroics.
The offense will have to change for the Packers (4-2), though it's unclear yet by how much. Hundley's most extensive action has come in the preseason, when he has shown mobility and a strong arm. He spent a little extra time this week with coach Mike McCarthy helping to put together the game plan.
But he still has a ways to go to replicate Rodgers' uncanny knack to catch defenses off-guard and adjust on the fly.
"So he clearly won't carry the responsibility into the game that Aaron Rodgers carries into it. I think that's obvious. I'd be an idiot if I asked him to do that," McCarthy said. "I think that's really for the other young guys who are playing. We don't ask all our younger players to do all the things that our veteran players do because they don't have the experience."
The 38-year-old Brees has plenty of experience. The Saints won their third straight game following an 0-2 start after beating 52-38 last week, when Brees threw two touchdown passes but also his first two interceptions of the season.
But an improved defense that forced five turnovers helped New Orleans win. Brees wants to get back to playing cleaner football.
"Offensively, I think we've done a pretty good job of (limiting turnovers) with the exception of this Detroit game , and yet thankfully the defense had so many, it offset ours," Brees said. "I think that's obviously the No. 1 step in football."
Other notes and things to watch:
ON THE LINE: As if Hundley didn't have enough to worry about, the Packers might have to start a patchwork offensive line again. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring), left guard Lane Taylor (ankle) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) were all on the injury report at midweek. All three starters left the Vikings game , and the results were awful for Hundley after he took four sacks and felt under pressure several other times.
CAM CAN: The Packers' battered front will be challenged by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, a menacing presence and easily the team's best defensive player this season. Jordan had two sacks and an interception in a stat sheet-filling outing last week against Detroit. With five sacks and eight quarterback hits this season, Jordan now has his sights set on a signal caller making his first start.
RUN IT OUT: Generating a running game could go a long way toward easing the pressure on Hundley. Green Bay hasn't been very productive on the ground, other than a 160-yard day against Dallas two weeks ago. Part of the problem is that starter Ty Montgomery has been dealing with broken ribs the last couple weeks. The revolving door on the offensive line has hurt, too, with starters unable to jell.
"Just the moving parts up front, it's been kind of tough, moving guys in, moving guys out, getting familiar with our guys, our movement," said right guard Jahri Evans, a former Saint.
THIRD DOWN: The Saints want to get better on third down after converting 2 of 12 (17 percent) such situations against the Lions. They're ranked an uncharacteristically low 23rd in the league on third downs (37 percent) overall. Avoiding penalties and getting more production on early downs will be important in getting into manageable situations on third down, Brees said.
CORNER CONCERN: The Packers' secondary is another area that has been depleted, with four cornerbacks and starting safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) on the injury report at midweek. That could mean big trouble against Brees. A bit of good news for Green Bay is that rookie Kevin King, one of the team's best cornerbacks when on the field, returned as a full participant at practice after missing a week in the concussion protocol.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel and AP freelance writer Les East in Metarie, Louisiana contributed to this story.
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Updated October 19, 2017