Curran's Patriots-Saints preview
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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