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Determined Drew Brees, versatile Taysom Hill two threats facing Packers against Saints


Jim Owczarski   | Packers News
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Third in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to face during the 2020 regular season.

GREEN BAY - Over the last three years the New Orleans Saints have shifted focus offensively and rediscovered their winning ways. They've finished fifth, seventh and 16th in the NFL in rushing while going 37-11 and reaching the postseason each year. But, after a second straight 13-3 season in 2019, they were upset at home by the Minnesota Vikings, and time is about up on Drew Brees’ run with the franchise.

Brees went to the Pro Bowl and led the league in completion percentage in 2019 (74.3%) but his arm strength has diminished and Taysom Hill has been used for deeper throws. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is in the conversation for the best in the league, as is dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara.

The defense has improved the last three years as well, ranking in the top half of the league in points allowed and becoming one of the better units against the run (fourth in 2019). The core of the group — All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis (111 tackles) and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan (15.5 sacks) — will each be 31 years old at the start of the season but the secondary is led by young safety Marcus Williams (4 interceptions) and Pro Bowl corner Marshon Lattimore.

It’s also worth noting the Saints have a Pro Bowl kicker in Will Lutz (3-for-5 from 50 yards or further in 2019) and an All-Pro return man in Deonte Harris (982 combined return yards, punt return TD).

Here are three things to know about the Saints:

Brees’ swan song?

The NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns likely is entering his last season — 20th overall — and no doubt wants another great statistical season to try to outpace new division rival Tom Brady. The Packers will be coming in for a prime-time game and the added element of having Aaron Rodgers on the opposite sideline will no doubt have Brees and head coach Sean Payton itching to put on a show. Make no mistake: Kamara is the key piece to the offense now, but the Saints and Brees will want to make what could be his final season one to remember.

One-man show

Star wide receiver Thomas was targeted 185 times last season and caught 149 passes. The rest of the Saints receivers? They were targeted 96 times for only 58 catches. They lost 35-year-old Ted Ginn Jr. (30 catches, 421 yards) in free agency to Chicago and signed 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders (66 catches, 869 yards) to replace him — but Sanders isn’t the type of threat he was in his prime in Denver. Thomas is hard to stop and “limiting” him doesn’t necessarily equate to victory but he will remain Brees’ favorite and perhaps only wide-receiver target.

A Hill effect?

Packers fans continue to rue Sept. 2, 2017, when then-general manager Ted Thompson cut Taysom Hill. The quarterback ended up with the Saints, and even though he has thrown 13 career passes (completing six) he has proved to be a jack-of-all-trades athlete with 352 career rushing yards, 238 career receiving yards and 360 career kick-return yards. Despite the fact he hasn’t played much as quarterback in the NFL and he’ll be 30 by the start of the regular season, there is a feeling he is Brees’ heir apparent so it’s possible the Saints use him more in spurts under center. But Hill does create some matchup issues as a gadget player, and no doubt Payton will have something dialed up for him against the Packers.

Packers schedule glimpse

Sept. 27, at Saints, 7:20 p.m., NBC

Week before: vs. Detroit, Sept. 20.

Week after: vs. Atlanta, Oct. 5.

On the horizon: at Tampa Bay, Oct. 18.

New Orleans Saints

Coach: Sean Payton (131-77 overall, 14th season with the Saints).

2019 record: 13-3, first in NFC South.

Scoring offense: 28.6 (3rd in NFL).

Total offense: 373.9 (9th).

Scoring defense: 21.3 (13th).

Total defense: 333.1 (11th).

Series: Packers lead, 16-9.

Last meeting: It has been a bit since the teams last played, and it’s one the Packers and Mike McCarthy likely wanted to forget quickly after they lost 26-17 at Lambeau Field on Oct. 22, 2017. The Saints scored 19 second-half points to top the Brett Hundley-led Packers in front of more than 78,000 in Green Bay. Hundley, in his first start filling in for the injured Rodgers, went 12-for-25 for just 87 yards with an interception while Brees threw for 331 yards and a score (the Packers did intercept him twice). Aaron Jones rushed 17 times for 131 yards and a score while Mark Ingram topped 100 yards on the ground for the Saints. Kamara had 107 yards of total offense and Saints receivers Ginn Jr. (7 catches, 141 yards) and Thomas (7 catches, 82 yards) had big days. Davante Adams had two catches for the Packers.

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