10 things you have to know about Saints-Patriots
|10.12.13 at 1:11 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Saints game.
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Cornerback Aqib Talib against tight end Jimmy Graham – While it won’t be exclusive, single coverage, expect the Patriots to try and utilize Talib against Graham for part of the afternoon, as he’s the only one of their cornerbacks who can run with him stride for stride and has the physical body type that could give him problems. Graham is a freakshow of epic proportions in that he’s bigger than your average defensive back and just as strong as any linebacker who could work against him in coverage. That’s why Talib — your best defender in situations like this — might offer something that another defender (Dont’a Hightower? Jerod Mayo? Jamie Collins?) couldn’t. Honestly, when you’re talking about defending him, you have to account for the fact that you’ll give up something and just try and minimize the damage. One other note: Graham has at least 100 yards receiving in four consecutive games, and can break tie for longest streak by tight end in NFL history Sunday against New England.
2. Patriots defense against running back Darren Sproles – A classic third-down back, Sproles is the best in the league at what he does. The 30-year-old is a 5-foot-6, 190-pound machine out of the backfield who can beat you on the ground (103 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per carry) or through the air (26 catches, 308 yards and one TD). Sproles isn’t a deep threat in the passing game, but instead one of the best in the league when it comes to YAC with 224. He has to be hit and hit hard coming out of the backfield — think of the classic image of Willie McGinest belting Marshall Faulk before he got off the line in Super Bowl XXXVI, and you have an idea of what we’re talking about here. Make sure he doesn’t get into his routes by using physical force and redirection, and you can throw off the New Orleans short passing game. The Patriots have allowed 683 total yards to running backs this season — including 23 catches for 185 yards through five games — which means Sproles will be a huge point of emphasis this week for the New England pass defense.
3. Quarterback Tom Brady against Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – We detailed some of what the Patriots have come to expect from a Rob Ryan defense over the last few seasons here, but it should be another chess match between the quarterback and an opposing defensive coordinator who has a mostly positive track record when it comes to at least slowing down the Patriots. Go back to the 2011 meeting between the Patriots and Cowboys, when Ryan was serving as the Dallas DC. In that game, Ryan was able to gain the upper hand early and discombobulate Brady with a variety of different looks that produced two sacks and an interception by the end of the first quarter. Brady and the Patriots responded by stepping on the gas pedal and running no huddle for 52 percent of the game. The Cowboys struggled to keep up — they were forced to go relatively simple in their schemes as a result — and the Patriots got away with a narrow 20-16 win. Don’t expect New England to go turbo this weekend against the Saints (the Patriots have been in no-huddle on only 5 percent of their snaps this year), but they have to find some way to put together some lengthy, sustained drives in hopes of keeping the high-powered Saints offense off the field as long as possible. Brady is 2-1 in his career against Rob Ryan defenses, and if he wants to move to 3-1 on Sunday, he and the rest of the New England offense will have to raise its collective game against a defensive coordinator who always has something interesting planned for them.
4. Under-the-radar opponent Patriots fans need to know – defensive end Cameron Jordan has become Ryan’s latest pet project — the New Orleans defensive coordinator has turned him into an elite-level pass rusher coming off the edge. He has four sacks through the first five games, and has shown a nice ability to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. (For the record, we thought he would have been a nice fit in Foxboro.) Part of the success of the Saints defense lies in the fact that their offense is able to jet to a quick lead, which often leaves teams needing to throw the ball to get back into the game. That one-dimensional style can leave opponents vulnerable, and that’s usually when Ryan is able to unleash a flurry of blitzes, including Jordan and Junior Gallette (three sacks). According to Pro Football Focus, Jordan also has five quarterback hits and 19 quarterback hurries.
5. By the numbers: Via STATS, Brady has won 12 straight home starts in the month of October, with 24 TD passes, five interceptions and a 104.4 passer rating in those games. Brady’s 2013 completion percentage (56.6 percent) and passer rating (80.5) are both his second lowest through five games in any season in his career. (One more — Brady is 0-3 as a professional against Brees. The only time he beat Brees was as a collegian and his Michigan team knocked off Purdue in 1999. For some of those highlights, check them out HERE.)
6. Quote from an opposing scout about this game – “You stop Drew Brees and that offense by keeping them off the field. Expect the Patriots to try and utilize the same game plan they did the other week against the Falcons. The Saints have tough matchups and cause you to defend the field vertically and horizontally. You have to slow down routes by getting hands on receivers, and you have to squeeze throwing lanes on Brees.” — For more from that scout, check out the full breakdown HERE.
7. Patriots fans should be worried about … the game getting out of hand early. New Orleans and Denver have the two best offenses in the league, and while the Saints aren’t putting up points like the Broncos, they have just as many elite level skill position players. New England wants the score of the game to be in the teens and twenties, while the Saints would like the score to get up into the thirties. The lower the score on Sunday, the greater the Patriots’ chances are of winning the game.
8. Saints fans should be worried about … the Patriots building to a point in the game where they can put together a sustained running attack. One weakness for the Saints that fairly jumps off the page is their run defense. New Orleans is average to below average when it comes to stopping the run, and its 5.4 yards per carry allowed is the worst in the league. For whatever reason — scheme, personnel, weather — the Patriots abandoned the run too early in the second half of last week’s loss to the Bengals, only running the ball six times in the second half of a competitive game. If a similar situation presents itself Sunday against the Saints (that is to say, it’s a one-score game either way in the fourth quarter), New England should find a winnable matchup if it decides to keep the ball on the ground against New Orleans.
9. One more thing – There is a level of Gronk fatigue that is settling in around the team. While he wasn’t exactly exasperated as some would have you believe when he answered questions about Gronkowski last Wednesday — this is where the video of the exchange is far more illuminating than the transcript — Brady is clearly a little peeved about having to go through the same dance every week when it comes to questions about the status of the tight end. One thing that we do know is that the decision to keep him off the physically unable to perform list, in hindsight, was a necessary part of the rehab process. If he were placed on PUP, he wouldn’t have been eligible to practice, which would have set him back another few weeks (at least) in his rehab. The fact that he’s been out there, running around with his teammates and engaging in football-like activities for a month or so now is something that will be to his advantage when he does get back into game action. The hill won’t be so steep. But when it comes to whether or not he’ll be able to play on Sunday, no one is quite sure what to expect.
10. Prediction –
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