Containing the check-down receivers. I'm not sure that the Patriots will be able to stop Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday, but I am confident that the Patriots can slow him down to some extent... at least compared to his normal superhuman standards. But even if the Patriots do slow down Graham, they'll have their work cut out to slow down the Saints offense enough to win this game. One area where I do think the Sainst can kill the Patriots is with their running backs in the passing game. Pierre Thomas already has 28 catches and two touchdowns, while Darren Sproles has 26 and a touchdown of his own. If the Patriots line up any of their three linebackers one-on-one with these two, they will be burned. They'll need to find a way to limit Graham, but also the running backs. Perhaps Dane Fletcher shows up this week.
Making a massive stand on D: There's a camp that erroneously assumes the Patriot offense is key to this game, having to produce enough points to outrace Brees and Co. While the Patriots will certainly have to devise a creative way to score more than six, the real challenge here comes on defense. The Patriots--even with one Rob Gronkowski--simply don't have enough reliable firepower to compete in a Dallas/Denver-esque shootout. The D-Line is hurting with injuries to Wilfork and now Tommy Kelly (which exposes some vulnerabilities in rush defense) but the secondary is healthy and playing at an extremely high level. Finding a way to deny TE Jimmy Graham a clean release off the line is a huge factor, but don't sleep on Colston, Meachem or Moore. Keeping the receivers in check will be paramount so as to reinforce an anti-Graham/Sproles gameplan. If the Patriots are unable to take away any of the Saints' weapons and the linebackers are unable to keep a handle on check-downs, New England could be in for a long afternoon.
Establishing the run. We all saw last week what happens to this offense when the running game can’t get anything going. With a scheme that relies heavily on selling the playaction, it will be especially important this Sunday to move the ball well on the ground and make the defense respect the playfake. The Saints are able to generate pressure with only four rushers, and Rob Ryan loves to dial up complex blitz packages that are sure to be a test for the offensive line; getting the running game going will help to neutralize those blitzes and force the pass rush to be more reserved lest they get gashed for a big gain. Furthermore, the 2013 Patriots just don’t have the firepower to compete with the Saints offensively; Drew Brees just has too many weapons. Therefore, long, sustained drives that take up a lot of time and end in touchdowns are absolutely essential if the Patriots are going to win this one. The way you do that is with an effective run game.
Let's state the obvious: the Patriots offense has been terrible all year. Yes, they had a good game against the Falcons, but that used to be the status quo.
Let's state the obvious part 2: the Patriots will see Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back on the field, relegating the rookies to a more fitting support role. This will make the defense better and make 20+ points more regular than they have been.
So the key to this game? The Patriots offense. If they show up, then we have a game. If not? This will get ugly.
Pressure Brees: Much like any quarterback, a solid pass rush can neutralize the passing game; Drew Brees is no exception to this. He struggled Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, completing just 56.5 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. He was sacked four times, hit three, and hurried seven. Watch for Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones to get after Brees and collapse the pocket. Although he has proven to be one of the best out-of-pocket passers in the league, he will be throwing into a solid Patriots pass defense.
What do you think will be the key to winning for the Patriots on Sunday?