If you look at the nfl.com stats by team, the Saints make their mark in only 2 categories: 1st in Total Offense and 5th in Rushing Offense. That's not burning up the field. A closer look also reveals they give up a lot of yardage and points on defense. So, how is it that they win games if their defense is giving up so much? The answer is offense. Drew Brees and his collection of weapons score a lot of points, to the tune of a league #1 36.9 on average.
So how can the Patriots be successful in New Orleans?
This is a huge game for both teams. To be somewhat egotistical, it's most likely the toughest game on the Saints' schedule. It's certainly the toughest of their remaining 6 matchups. A victory against NE would potentially legitimize the Saints as a "for real" team. From a New England perspective, our Patriots have struggled on the road against quality teams. We're 1-3 on the road with our only W at Wembley (you're not counting Tampa Bay as a quality team, are you?). A statement game for both teams.
As mentioned above, the Saints are not burning up the field in any one area except total offense. However, I can't get rid of this nagging feeling that they remind me of Patriots teams from the "Golden Years", the Super Bowl winning seasons. What the Saints DO have is solid team play across the board; just as there's only 1 or 2 areas where they statistically excel, conversely there's few areas where they're lacking. They seem to cover all of the bases...all of the time. So, what are the keys to coming out ahead of this franchise?
- Drew Brees - This answer always pains me because it's so formulaic, but it's very true: take away Drew Brees. Remember how successful our defense was at Indy in the first half? That was from consistent pressure on Peyton Manning. the same is true of just about every quarterback as well; consistently put someone in his backfield, and Brees will have less time to weigh his options.
Saints' Backfield - Bush is having an incredible season. Like his team, he is not burning up the charts in any one area, but he's a constant threat. Much like our Kevin Faulk, Bush can hurt you in so many different ways - his yardage rushing is almost identical to his passing yardage. He's listed as questionable in the injury report, by I doubt that has any credence. However, Bush is not the only weapon in the backfield. Much like the Patriots, there's no clear star but there's dangerous ones.
- Passing Attack - Our New England Patriots are 6th against the pass for average yards. That's not bad considering the defensive backfield of 2008 was a joke, in my opinion. Taking away Brees' targets is paramount to winning this game. However, he has so many. Marques Colston at 6-4 225 lbs is a serious threat to defensive backs; not only does he have the height, but he has the strength and poundage to win against CB's and safeties. Then there's TE Jeremy Shockey. Jettisoned by the Giants, he's found a home in New Orleans and appears to be thriving.
- RedZone Defense - New Orleans is 5th in the league at 65.3%. Unfortunately, New England is 28th in RedZone defense. We let our opponents score 65% of the time inside the 20. Ugghh...
- Score more points - As basic as that sounds, it's a classic Belichick answer to how a team wins a game. New Orleans is a high scoring team and to combat that, New England has to keep pace. That means throwing the ball A LOT. NO will be smart enough to take away Randy Moss. Sure, Wes Welker is super dangerous at moving the chains, but a guy like Moss puts points on the board. With Moss most likely covered, who do we go to? As I'm fond of saying, Benjamin Watson, Julian Edelman, and Sam Aiken. Let's not forget screens to our running backs; Sammy Morris (if he plays) can be successful as an option and Kevin Faulk is the master of this backfield at that particular scenario.
What are you keys to winning? Is it any one of three phases? Play well on all phases? Any player in particular that has to step up or an NO guy we need to neutralize?