Sunday, October 13, 2013

Four Point Stance: Saints at Patriots


The division-leading New England Patriots return home after splitting a two-game road trip, first winning in Atlanta before dropping a sloppy contest in Cincinnati last week.

They'll need to tighten up their game before they face the undefeated New Orleans Saints, who are coming off a thorough road win over the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads a stable of dangerous backs and receivers to form one of the league's most dominant offenses.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are still trying to develop their own offensive consistency. A game against New Orleans offers an opportunity to make a powerful statement, but will demand the type of complete performance not yet seen from the 2013 Patriots.

When the Patriots have the ball:
First-year Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took a unit that ranked 31st in scoring defense in 2012 and transformed it into the league's fourth-stingiest this year. The keys have been an improved pass rush and back-end coverage, but if the Patriots can maintain balance on offense it will help mitigate some of New Orleans' defensive strengths. Despite a long list of injuries in the backfield, the Patriots will need to focus on the running game to take pressure off Tom Brady and his developing skill group.

When the Saints have the ball:
New England's defense has itself been solid through the first part of the season, ranking second in scoring defense. This week will mark it's biggest test of the season, by far. Saints' tailback Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham are matchup nightmares in the passing game, and Brees is among the league's best in executing an offensive gameplan. Expect the Saints to attempt to exploit New England's rash of injuries on the interior defensive line, heavily using the run to set up the pass.

Graham, the best non-quarterback player on the field. The Patriots do not have a linebacker or defensive back that's capable of defending the 6-foot-7 tight end one-on-one, likely forcing them to scheme in double-teams with extra players. Problem is, New England will be lacking both of its starting defensive tackles, forcing the team to dedicate more manpower to defending interior runs. Graham's presence puts tremendous pressure on the middle of the Patriots defense.

The Patriots last played New Orleans in 2009, during the Saints' Super Bowl run. Brady's 55.0 passer rating in that game, a 38-17 Saints victory, was his lowest in the past four years up until his 52.2 showing last week in Cincinnati. Brees had his only career perfect 158.3 rating in that same contest. New England leads the all-time series, 8-4.

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