Curran's Patriots - Saints Week 6 Preview Review

Curran's Patriots - Saints Week 6 Preview Review
October 14, 2013, 3:45 am
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FOXBORO – Was the Patriots loss in Cincinnati a symptom of a greater illness or just a sneeze? Is the X-ray showing something dire, or is that spot just a smudge? This week, the Patriots will see an even more complete opponent, the New Orleans Saints. Might win, might lose. Saints are 5-0. But the way in which they play after last week’s abysmal performance matters.
 
What happened Sunday shows – for the millionth time – that a team in trouble is a temporary thing.
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
 
A confluence of circumstances caused the Cincinnati disaster. An excellent defense playing at home with the speed, talent and beef to generate pressure with minimum use of blitzes. Also, a good group of secondary players athletic enough to blanket the Patriots wideouts. Without a changeup back or a tight end to take the heat off of the perimeter players, the Patriots were swimming upstream. A great game plan by the Bengals, drops by the Patriots wideouts and some stray throws and it looked like teams do when their offenses sputter. New Orleans doesn’t generate its pressure in the same way the Bengals do. And that’s good news for the Patriots. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is known as an aggressive defensive coach and he makes good use of his pass rushing edge guys Junior Gallette and Cameron Jordan. But the Saints do give up chunks on the ground, as a 5..4 yards per carry allowed stat shows. The return of Stevan Ridley to the running game will give some diverse skill and the Patriots should be able to stay out of the third-and-several situations that killed them last week. The Patriots are going to find more room to work downfield than they did last week and – with the Saints needing to use blitzes to get Tom Brady off his spot – the chance to get plays in screens and down the middle should arise. Gronk or not, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will be in business on Sunday.
 
The Patriots went right at the Saints, up-tempo early and taking shots to guys they don’t normally use (Michael Hoomanawanui with 4 catches for 57 yards). Brady hit eight different receivers and the return of Ridley made a big difference – 20 carries for 96 yards. The Saints blitzed and got home five times on Brady but Brady’s pocket mobility and two scrambles created plays as well. The drops were even more obscene than normal and the loss of Danny Amendola to an apparent concussion is going to shoot Austin Collie into a bigger role. Aaron Dobson had his best game of the year but he still has a lot of work ahead to gain Brady’s full trust.
 
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
 
It all revolves around the passing game. New Orleans has run it 125 times in five games and thrown it 201. Drew Brees will test every part of a defense because he has diverse weapons, but against the Patriots, the most vulnerable parts are in the middle and the flats with the running backs and tight ends. And New Orleans has those. Darren Sproles is one of the best utility backs, having handled the ball 51 times in five games (25 catches, 26 runs). He’s got 412 yards from scrimmage on those touches. Pierre Thomas doesn’t run worth squat (2.9 average on 48 carries), but he is another threat out of the backfield with 28 catches. And Jimmy Graham is the best aerial weapon in the game so far this year with 37 catches for 593 yards. Marques Colston’s touches are down as Graham’s numbers have risen. The Patriots may be dealing with a domino issue on Sunday. Tommy Kelly joins Vince Wilfork on the sidelines so the defensive tackle brood is even smaller. That means the Saints may try to get their ground game right by running at the middle of the Patriots defense. The Patriots addressed that against the Bengals by letting Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes loose in the ground game but both the Saints will then have a chance to exploit the linebacker level with Graham, Colston and Sproles. Tough choice and a big game for the Patriots secondary to be sure tacklers and make sure Graham and Sproles are accounted for.
 
The Saints did an effective job of attacking the Patriots on the ground and ran for 131 on 26 carries but the Patriots secondary and linebackers were just brilliant in coverage all day, holding Jimmy Graham without a catch and keeping Darren Sproles mostly in check. Benjamin Watson benefited unexpectedly with three catches for 61 yards from his tight end spot and Kenny Stills had the go-ahead touchdown grab on a third-and-20 from 34 yards away but even on that Alfonzo Dennard had good coverage.
 
THE KICKING GAME
 
Garrett Hartley’s made nine of his last 10 field goals and punter Thomas Morstead is having an outstanding year with eight of his 18 punts downed inside the 20. Sproles is their punt and kickoff returner. Patriots specialists Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski have been very good. Gostkowski’s made 13 of 14 field goals. Allen has put 13 of his 30 punts inside he 20.

The return game was unremarkable for both teams, although an ill-conceived throwback on a punt return by Julian Edelman could have been a disaster. Ryan Allen had another outstanding game with a net of 47.5 on four punts. Gostkowski drilled three more field goals including a 54-yarder.  
 
PATRIOTS INJURY REPORT
 
OUT: Tommy Kelly, DL; Leon Washington, RB; QUESTIONABLE: Danny Amendola, WR; Brandon Bolden, RB;  Rob Gronkowski, TE; Stevan Ridley, RB;Matthew Slater,WR; Ryan Wendell, C’ Tavon Wilson, S; PROBABLE: Aaron Dobson WR; Don’t’a Hightower; LB Jerod Mayo, LB’ Rob Ninkovich DE.
 
The Patriots have issues coming out of this one with Aqib Talib (hip), Jerod Mayo (shoulder), Dan Connolly (concussion) and Danny Amendola (concussion) all getting driven from the game. Edelman appeared to sustain a leg injury as well and Logan Mankins looked sore after a shot to the hip on a Ridley touchdown run.
 
SAINTS INJURY REPORT
 
OUT; Roman Harper, S; Tyrunn Walker, DE; QUESTIONABLE: Brodrick Bubkley, DT; Ramon Humber, LB; Mark Ingram, RB; Malcolm Jenkins, S; Kennan Lewis, S; Lance Moore, WR; Zach Strief, T; PROBABLE: Chris Carr, CB; Glenn Foster, DE; Tom Johnson, DE; Tim Leito, G; Isa Abdul Quddus, S; Martez Wilson, LB;
 
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
 
Dealing with the diversity of the Saints offense. The Patriots are going to have to give a specific accounting of Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. How do they deploy against those two – sic Aqib Talib on Graham or make sure there’s a safety always prowling behind Graham – is a likely plan. As for Sproles, he’ll be too fast for Mayo or Spikes and maybe Hightower as well. He’s a problem.
 
 
The Patriots went with Talib on Graham and they shut him down. The Patriots put Mayo in coverage on Sproles (with help at times) and the game plan was effective.
 
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
 
Graham. Nobody’s really done it all season but the Patriots are very good at taking away the No. 1 option of the opposing offense so don’t bet against the Patriots making Brees go elsewhere.
 
The preparation of dealing with Julio Jones and A.J. Green put he Patriots in position to have confidence in their game plan against Graham. Talib played rough with Graham and the goose egg Graham took had to be embarrassing for the Saints.
 
SAINTS GOTTA STOP …
 
Stevan Ridley. Presuming he’s in there with his balky knee. If he’s not, then throw in Bolden and Blount as the keys to be stopped. The Saints are dealing with multiple defensive injuries and if the running game gets chugging more will be devoted to stopping that, opening up the aerial attack.
 
Ridley was very effective, running for the 96 yards and two touchdowns we referenced earlier. His ability as a short-yardage back is miles beyond Blount and Bolden.
 
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
 
The Patriots offense looks absolutely nothing like the unit that was out there last week. Better matchup against a less-stout defense.
 
Pretty much. The Patriots put up 24 more points against a team that hadn’t allowed an opposing defense to score more than 20 all season.
 
 
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
 
“Every week in the NFL is its own thing. It never carries over, so you have a great win and you come back the next week and that win didn’t really lead to a win or a loss. It depends on how well you prepare and ultimately on how well you play. Just because you had three good days of practice doesn’t mean you are going to win. Just because you had three bad days of practice doesn’t mean you are going to lose. You have to ultimately go out there and play well when that’s your job to play well in the games. So, the better you play the more chance you are going to have to win. It really doesn’t matter what happened seven days before. It matters what you do on that particular day, the matchup you have and the plays that you make on that particular day.” – Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback.
 
Last week’s loss to the Bengals had people hitting the panic button but every week, as Brady said, is it’s own thing and Cincinnati is now a speck in the rearview.

THAT SUMS IT UP SAINTS STYLE
 
“There’s a little bit more attitude. You see a lot more focus and attitude from these guys. Guys have that swagger I guess that we missed last year. We really didn’t have that good swagger to keep working hard, to keep fighting, to keep pressing on. And we felt like our family wasn’t complete. Now that we’ve got our head coach back, our family is complete. We have that swagger about us.” – Pierre Thomas on the return of head coach Sean Payton from his suspension.
 
THE WINNER IS...

Patriots 31, Saints 27
 
Patriots 30, Saints 27