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Packers defeat Saints 42-34 in NFL opener: Game notes and analysis

James Starks is ready to become the Packers featured running back.
James Starks is ready to become the Packers featured running back.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Green Bay Packers used a 21-point first quarter to take down the New Orleans Saints 42-34 in the NFL season opener. The Packers never trailed but needed to hang on after almost losing a 15-point fourth quarter lead.

-- Apparently Aaron Rodgers did not need offseason workouts with his wide receivers. He threw touchdown passes on the Packers' three possessions and finished with 312 yards in the win, completing 27-of-35 passes. He found nine different receivers and, outside of a Jordy Nelson overthrow, was flawless in the win.

-- James Starks is ready to be the feature running back. The stats tell part of the story (Starks: 12 for 57; Grant: 9 for 40), but the tape tells the rest. Starks ran harder, found holes faster and scored on an impressive 17-yard run. Grant still has something left in the tank and blocked well, but it's time to start grooming the 25-year-old Starks as the workhorse in the backfield.

-- Jordy Nelson has arrived. If his nine-catch Super Bowl XLV performance wasn't enough to convince you, last night had to do it. He caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown and was inches from a second score, being tackled at the goal line. He also beat cornerback Jabari Greer on a go-route and would have scored on a 77-yard touchdown pass, but Rodgers overthrew him. Donald Driver will see time in the slot and James Jones (one catch) will be crucial in the offense, but Nelson is clearly the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart. He and Greg Jennings were targeted a team-high eight times.

-- The offensive line has put a terrible preseason to rest and looked excellent last night. Rodgers was hit five times and sacked twice, but both occurred on blitzes and, on one occasion, Jermichael Finley missed his assignment. Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton were great in the run game and Chad Clifton was near-flawless on the left side. For most of the night, Rodgers had plenty of time to sit in a pocket and find an open man. The offensive line's improvement could make the offense even more dangerous.

-- Randall Cobb, as we all expected and hoped, has added a completely new dimension to the Packers. His 108-yard kick return was reminiscent of something the Packers have not seen since Desmond Howard, and his speed in the open field on his 32-yard touchdown pass was unlike anything the offense has had in a long time. Jennings, Finley and Nelson will limit his targets in the offense, but when he catches it anything can happen.

-- Nose tackle B.J. Raji is well on his way to an All Pro season. It's just one game, but he continues to improve seemingly every game. His box score showed two tackles and a defended pass, but his impact on the game was massive. Most of the Saints' runs came off-tackle and when they did try to go inside, Raji was there to stop it.

-- If Mike Neal is forced to miss extended time, Jarius Wynn has proved his worth as a starter on the defensive line. He finished with four tackles and a sack and more than held his ground against the offensive line. When Neal returns, Wynn will surely see time in the rotation and help with the loss of Cullen Jenkins.

-- Clay Matthews was a split second away from having two sacks and, while his stats (four tackles, two QB hits) were average, he had constant pressure on Brees and made the initial hit on Mark Ingram on the game's final play. Don't be worried that he didn't register a sack; He was great on Thursday night.

-- Morgan Burnett's team-high 14 tackles were a bit misleading, as many came on pass plays that gained big yards, but he played very well against the run and is showing no timidness from his ACL injury suffered last season. With Collins able to patrol the secondary in cover one situations, we could see Burnett moved around on defense much like Charles Woodson has the last few years.

-- Sam Shields struggled Thursday night, and there is cause for concern that he is suffering from a sophomore slump. Granted, he was playing one of the best offenses in the league, but he was beaten most of the night. He did finish with two passes defended and almost intercepted another pass, but he will need to step up if Tramon Williams (bruised shoulder) misses any time.

-- Charles Woodson made a completely bone-headed play when he punched reserve tight end David Thomas. It was completely uncharacteristic of him, as he is usually one of the cooler heads on the field, but it easily could have resulted in him being ejected from the game which could have changed the outcome of the game. The Packers won the game, but Woodson lost on that play.

-- It is becoming apparent why Ted Thompson kept five tight ends. Finley was excellent in the pass game, Tom Crabtree blocked well on the line and D.J. Williams was just as good in the backfield, and Andrew Quarless, despite not catching a pass, saw time split wide. At times, the Packers bunched three tight ends together and, because of their athleticism, disguised run/pass well.

-- A.J. Hawk did NOT interfere with running back Darren Sproles on the game's second to last play. It wasn't enough close and it almost cost the Packers the game.

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