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PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush presents the first of three key matchups this week in advance of the Packers' 2011 season-opening showdown vs. the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints at Lambeau Field Thursday evening.
Saints DRT Sedrick Ellis vs. Packers OLG T.J. Lang
There are certainly a lot sexier matchups worth noting in what figures to be a high-octane showdown between two of the league's livelier offenses in the 2011 NFL season opener. But the Ellis-Lang tango in the trenches is a potential difference maker worthy of special focus.
On paper, the Saints would appear to have a significant edge in this matchup with Lang, who beat out Packers first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod for the starting OLG job vacated by Daryn Colledge, who had signed with the Cardinals in free agency.
A four-year veteran who was drafted seventh overall in the 2008 draft, Ellis is coming off the healthiest and most productive season of his career. He registered six sacks in 2010, matching his combined total in his first two seasons, and his tackle numbers have steadily increased (44 last season). Ellis had a strong season opener on a national Thursday-night stage last season, posting five tackles and a sack for a nine-yard loss in the Saints' 14-9 win over the Vikings, and he is a good candidate to step up his game Thursday night on a D-line that will be missing DRE Will Smith, who is sitting out the first two games because of a banned-substance rap.
The Saints are extremely excited about the triple threat in the interior of their defensive line, courtesy of Ellis and two quality veteran newcomers — Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin. Strong and thick, Ellis, in particular, figures to go right at Lang, who is beefier and more physical than Colledge but a much less proven commodity.
The Packers still believe the versatile Lang has a major upside despite a mediocre 2010 season that got off to a slow start because of a major wrist injury he suffered in the spring. A fourth-round draft pick in '09, Lang has a good head on his shoulders and decent tenacity. He made a concerted effort to get stronger during the offseason, and with a good initial push, he is capable of delivering a blow when necessary.