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Key matchup: Packers RB Cedric Benson vs. Saints run defense

Pro Football Weekly
Packers RB Benson has surgery, will not return in 2012

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Packers RB Benson has surgery, will not return in 2012

Packers RB Cedric Benson vs. Saints run defense

The Saints’ run defense is the league’s worst, but it has yet to truly be gashed by a powerful between-the-tackles thumper like Packers RB Cedric Benson.

Benson, who is gaining just 3.1 yards per carry, has not had a carry longer than 11 yards through three games. However, it will be no surprise if he finds the running lanes vs. the Saints to be a bit wider than usual. New Orleans is allowing 215 rushing yards per game (5.0 yards per carry), which is 60 yards more than the league’s 31st-ranked run defense (Cincinnati). The Saints also have allowed a league-high six rushing touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is under fire for his stop unit’s poor start, but he said Monday the Saints won’t “junk” what they are doing vs. the run even after Jamaal Charles racked up 233 yards on 33 carries against them in Week Three. Charles’ big day was highlighted by a game-changing 91-yard TD run.

“We had no problem with the way the game was being played up to that (long run),” Spagnuolo said. “When I say up to that point, I just think we were doing the right things. We were getting them in third down, there were some tackles for losses. Did he have a couple of chunk, seven or eight? Good players are going to do that. On the back end of that, you could put nine guys down there and take away the run. It puts a lot of pressure on your corners. We didn’t give up that over-the-top.

“With trust in our offense and special teams and the whole team together, we thought that was the right approach and it was going to work. We knew they would get a few yards running the football.”

So, the Saints are not changing their approach to defending the run. If that's the case, why would the Packers get away from giving the rock to Benson? They have shown a greater commitment to running the ball the past two weeks (Benson has 37 of his 46 carries in the last two games), and he has the potential to wear down the Saints’ defensive front seven if Green Bay decides to play power football.

We will find out Sunday if the problems with the Saints' run "D" have more to do with trying to stop speed and shiftiness or simply stuffing the run in general. Benson should see some favorable fronts with the threat of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game likely leading the Saints to play a lot of nickel packages.

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