The New Orleans Saints (5-0) travel to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots (4-1) at 4:25 ET. The most obvious headline is the battle between two of the best quarterback-coach combinations for the decade or so in Sean Payton and Drew Brees and Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Brady vs Brees matchup has been pretty one sided as Brees has won every matchup he has had with Brady dating back to his days in San Diego with Chargers. For Brees and the Saints to keep this record intact, they will have to play a great game and here are some keys to achieving this goal.
Besides the Brady-Brees headline, Gronk has dominated Sportscenter and other sports media outlets with his whole will he won’t he narrative. Assuming Gronkowski comes back he presents a very stiff test for the improved Saints defense. The Saints have been somewhat exploited by opposing tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Charles Clay. Neither had great yardage totals, but both were able to find the end zone.
Gronkowski’s size and skill is going to be a different task, however. Luckily for the Saints, they have their own Gronk that they go against in practice named Jimmy Graham, so it isn’t totally new for the Saints. Expect Ryan to double Gronk and be very physical at the outset with Kenny Vaccaro, Malcolm Jenkins, and the linebackers to make sure he isn’t comfortable to begin the game. Properly containing Gronk will force the Brady to rely on more inexperienced options like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.
The Saints Run Game
Another game, another chance for the Saints try to get their ground game back. The Patriots’ defense is very disciplined, but they lost their biggest (size and importance) piece of their defense 2 weeks ago for the season in Vince Wilfork. The lack of Wilfork will make the Saints’ endeavor of having a stable ground attack a little bit easier. Big Vince, when playing, is one of the most disruptive forces in the NFL. Without him the Patriots will rely on Joe Vellano and Tommy Kelly to fill the void. If the Saints are able to get their ground attack going, that keep Tom Brady off the field and allows them to control the pace of the game which is absolutely key to winning road games.
Marques Colston will have a test as he will be matched up against Aqib Talib.
Marques Colston vs Aqib Talib
In all the talk about Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles and their impact on the offense Colston has become a little bit of a forgotten piece. This is due, in part, to his quiet demeanor and his consistency which isn’t too flashy. This week he has another tough test.
Aqib Talib, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Saints nemesis, has quietly put together a shutdown corner like season with impressive outings against Julio Jones, Roddy White, and AJ Green the past three games. Colston will have his chances against Talib one on one as most of the safety and linebacker help will be given to Graham and Sproles. It will be imperative for Colston to step up and win against Talib as the Saints will be expected to be in a track meet with the Patriots offense.
X Factor: Saints’ rush defense
The Saints rush defense put up a nice performance last week against the Bears, but other than that they have been very susceptible to big gains on the ground. For all the shine that Brady gets, the Patriots run game can be decent and provide problems for opposing defenses. The trio of Stevan Ridley, Legarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden can provide New England some balance as they will look to keep the ball out of Brees’ hands. If the Saints can stop the New England running game that will put a lot of pressure on Brady; and this past year has proven that Brady isn’t as in sync with his receivers as he wants to be, so there may be some turnovers available.