The Saints are back. One year after a disappointing non-playoff season with head coach Sean Payton suspended, the New Orleans Saints are riding a perfect 5-0 record into this week’s game against the 4-1 New England Patriots. After falling to the Bengals last week, the Patriots will face their toughest test of the season thus far in the Saints. New Orleans has outscored opponents by 61 points to this point in the season, including an impressive 26-18 win on the road at Chicago last week. Their offense got off to a bit of a slow start, but they have rebounded, while their defense is looking better than it has since their 2009 championship season.
How They Rank:Total Offense: 405.0 YPG (4th)
Rush Offense: 78.2 YPG (26th)
Pass Offense: 326.8 YPG (2nd)
Points Per Game: 26.8 PPG (9th)
Total Defense: 330.4 YPG (T-11th)
Rush Defense: 108.6 YPG (18th)
Pass Defense: 221.8 (13th)
Points Allowed/Game: 14.6 (4th)
Turnover Ratio: +6 (T-4th)
Three Storylines to Watch:
Stopping Jimmy Graham: With Rob Gronkowski missing the first five weeks of the season, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has established himself as the elite tight end in all of football. He’s had over 100 yards in four straight games – tying an NFL record for tight ends. The Patriots take pride in their ability to stop their opponent’s best weapon, and Graham is exactly that. The Patriots were abused by Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons for three quarters in week four, before jamming him with a double team on their final possession. New England could try a similar approach with Graham, but there is no way a linebacker will be able to keep up with him. The Patriots will likely need to keep a defensive back on him at all times, whether that be top cornerback Aqib Talib or a safety such as Steve Gregory.
Drew Brees and his success against the Patriots: Somewhat known fact: Drew Brees has lit up the Patriots during his NFL career. In fact, Brees is a career 3-0 against Bill Belichick coached and Tom Brady quarterbacked Patriots teams. During the team’s most recent meeting in 2009, Brees embarrassed the Patriots secondary, throwing five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. The Patriots will have to hope to slow down, though not necessarily stop Brees on Sunday. They will need to make sure they stay tight on checkdowns such as Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. They will also need to stay opportunistic in the turnover department to win. In week five, the Chicago Bears, perhaps the only NFL that produces more turnovers than the Patriots, were held without a takeaway.
Rob Gronkowski and his return: This will be perhaps the most anticipated storyline of this week, as the Patriots are in desperate need of help on offense, and Gronkowski provides exactly that. After missing the first five weeks of the season recovering from back and forearm surgies, Gronkowski is likely to make his debut this week, according to various reports. Gronkowski will not be a savior, but he will most certainly help. The most intriguing area where Gronkowski could help is in the red zone – where the Patriots have had noticeable struggles. The Patriots have also failed to consistently test teams down the seam, which is another area that Gronkowski figures to help. For those wondering, the Saints have defended tight ends well this season. They held Tony Gonzalez to three catches for 36 yards in week one, and Martellus Bennett of the Bears to five catches for 56 yards last week.
What are your thoughts on the match-up?