The 2-7 New Orleans Saints come to Foxboro Sunday with the Patriots looking for their first 2 game winning streak of the year. It will be important to the Patriots to build on the progress made last week on defense. A good performance there, better than against Miami, will lead to this game not being close and it will tilt quickly in the Patriots favor.
THE PATRIOTS ON OFFENSE
New Orleans is 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed. They are also 29th in points allowed. They give up over 130 yards rushing per game and 4.4 yards per carry. So, look for the Patriots to try to establish the run. Corey Dillon will likely be out for the Patriots, but a triumverate attack of Patrick Pass, Heath Evans and Mike Cloud is the option with the hot hand probably getting an extended workout in the second half.
The Saints pass defense does rank 5th in the NFL in yardage allowed, but that is mostly attributable to the fact opponents have tried the 2nd fewest number of pass attempts against them. When they do pass, opponents have completed 59% of their passes with 11 TDs and only 7 INTs. So the Patriots have the opportunity here to throw the ball as well.
The Saints do have some capable guys on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive ends Charles Grant and Darren Howard were both high draft picks and are excellent players. That is one of the better end tandems in the NFL. The Saints are stocked at this position as they have Will Smith and Tony Bryant at backups and both of those guys could start for most NFL teams as well. Between the four of them, they have 12.5 of the Saints 17 sacks this year. All will play and the tight ends and backs will have to make sure to watch the rush from the end when passing.
The Saints linebackers are a below average group that lacks speed. This probably accounts for the poor job they have done against the run as backs can cut back or outside on them and they don’t have the ability to catch up. #57 Colby Buckholdt is a second year player who has some potential for them in the long run. The lack of speed is a particularly bad match for Saints coach Jim Haslett who runs a zone-blitz scheme similar to Pittsburgh. The Patriots have traditionally tried to attack this type of scheme by throwing downfield in the middle and on screens. The shorter receiver routes probably won’t be as prevalent. The Saints defensive backs feature two excellent players the Patriots will have to be careful not to allow to make big plays in Mike McKenzie and Dwight Smith. The rest of the crew is below average.
THE PATRIOTS ON DEFENSE
The Saints will want to throw the ball on the Patriots. However, an issue for them is the status of receiver Donte Stallworth who is banged up. Receiver Joe Horn, normally a Pro Bowl level player, is having a very poor year and may be showing signs of age. Third receiver Devery Henderson is a very talented guy who can get deep and has size and burned the Patriots in the exhibition season.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks is an inconsistent performer for the Saints who the Patriots should be able to pressure into mistakes as the Saints have given up 28 sacks this year, among the worst in the league. Running the ball, the Patriots will want to stop former teammate Antwouin Smith who has done a good job for New Orleans this season and always runs hard. The other back, Aaron Stecker, isn’t much of a threat.
Look for the Patriots to try to play base defense most of the time, perhaps throwing an occasional linebacker blitzer at the inexperienced and underperforming Saints offensive line. They should be able to get pressure with four guys, maybe an occasional (but not overdone) fifth guy. The defensive backs for the Pats need to be physical with the Saints receivers on the short routes and hope the Patriots can contain the edge and not allow Brooks to scramble on them. If they can do this, Brooks won’t have time to hit the longer downfield routes to the speedy, talented receivers that could burn the Patriots and has been a problem this year. They can’t allow Brooks to buy time or it will be a problem yet again.
THE PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS VS. THE NEW ORLEANS SPECIAL TEAMS
Saints kicker John Carney has had a solid, long NFL career but is now 41 years old and doesn’t have the leg he used to. He is only 4-8 in field goals over 40 yards this season. The weather forecast calls for 10 to 15 MPH winds in Foxboro tomorrow and that could affect Carney even further. If Haslett decides to risk some over 40 yard field goals, it may set the Patriots up in some good field position after misses. The Saints have done a good job covering kicks and punts this year, so that doesn’t present any obvious opportunities for the Patriots.
Even with the injuries, the Patriots should have more than enough to beat this team. The Patriots offense should be able to throw and run the ball, even without Corey Dillon. The Saints offense will likely move the ball at times, particularly throwing, but will stall, make mistakes and settle for field goals at time, some of which they very well may miss. In the end, it’ll amount to a 30-13 Patriots victory.