And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the Green Bay Packers journey to Jacksonville for a matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
It’s technically a home game for the Saints even though they’ve been displaced due to the results of Hurricane Ida. The Saints won’t have the comforts of home but a good portion of their fanbase should still travel the couple-100 miles to Jacksonville.
The Green Bay Packers should also be well represented – as they always are. Which team will repay their fanbase with a victory?
That could come down to these three key matchups.
Kevin King vs Marquez Callaway
The Green Bay Packers typically don’t have Jaire Alexander (their #1 corner) shadow the opposition’s #1 receiver. So, we see a variety of matchups throughout every game. One I’ll have my eye on is Kevin King against Marquez Callaway.
Considering that Callaway is on my fantasy team, part of me wants him to have success – but it’s a small part. Ideally, we’d see Callaway and the entire Saints passing attack shutdown by the Packers’ secondary.
Callaway should operate as the X-receiver, with Tre’Quan Smith filling the Z-receiver role vacated by Michael Thomas. That means we’ll see plenty of Callaway v King.
On paper, King and Callaway are fairly evenly matched. Both blend great length with solid long speed and contact balance, though neither moves too well in a phone booth. Callaway leaves his mark with his ball-skills and ability to track and adjust his body to every throw.
— NFL (@NFL) September 2, 2021
That will make Callaway a tough test for King, as King has shown some struggles turning for the ball and maintaining position against receivers. Consequently, he’s been penalized 6 times in each of the last two years.
If I were a betting man, I’d expect to see atleast one big play from Callaway and maybe even a flag from King. Marquez Callaway may be on the verge of a breakout season, and Kevin King could be his first victim.
TJ Slaton vs Erik McCoy
We’re not sure how much we’ll see of TJ Slaton, as he’s listed as Kenny Clark’s backup at nose tackle. However, Slaton offers a skill-set that should make him just as valuable against the run as KC. He has the mass and power to not only eat up space but also blockers.
The Packers got Kenny Clark some help when they picked up Florida DT TJ Slaton in the 5th round of the draft.
Check out some highlights of @_56Ms_ 👀
— Game On Wisconsin (@gameonwi) May 8, 2021
When Slaton is on the field, he’ll be facemask to facemask with Erik McCoy. McCoy is one of the top young centers in the league and has started every game at the position for the Saints, since he was drafted in the second round in 2019.
He’s the same height as Slaton – 6’ 4” – but McCoy has a great natural knee-bend that allows him to win the leverage battle against even the squattiest nose tackles. He’s skilled with his hands and gets to his spot in a hurry.
The real question will be whether or not McCoy can maintain that spot against Slaton in a one-on-one situation. Slaton is difficult to finish off in both the run-game and the pass-game. He’s shown the balance to stay upright and the grit to allow him a second chance to make a play.
My biggest concern in this matchup is Slaton’s ability to anchor against a double-team. There’s film from Slaton’s college days of him being driven 5+ yards away from the play, allowing the offense to successfully combo to the second level.
The Green Bay Packers simply cannot allow that to happen. If Slaton can’t maintain gap integrity as a nose tackle, he won’t have a role on this defense. Sunday against Erik McCoy will be Slaton’s first real test.
This is a broad topic but we’re talking about one of the top special teams performers from the 2020 season in the New Orleans Saints vs one of the worst in the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers failed to consistently rake the field against returners, allowing the 2nd most combined punt and kick return yards in the league last year.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. The Packers marched out the most anemic combination of returners we’ve seen in awhile. They generated a pathetic 53 punt returns yards on the season and failed to field the ball consistently.
It was clear through interviews both during and after the season that the front office and coaching staff were aware of the failures on special teams and I feel they’ve done enough to address the issue.
▪️ Special teams shake-up
▪️ WR depth
▪️ Jack Heflin
3️⃣ Things ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/rnI7kaQBZP
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) September 3, 2021
They cut ties with Coordinator Shawn Menenga and punter JK Scott – whose struggles as a holder were almost as obvious as his struggles as a punter. They also added plenty of depth via the draft and free agency. This year’s preseason roster was much more competitive than last year’s which usually leads to improved play on special teams.
Players like Isaiah McDuffie and Malik Taylor should shine on those units this year. The Packers also added more return competition with rookies Kylin Hill and Amari Rodgers. Randall Cobb will bring depth and security to the role as well.
If there’s one thing I feel confident in, it’s that the Green Bay Packers will have improved play across all of their special teams units this season. They can take a big step in proving that tomorrow afternoon against the New Orleans Saints.