1. This is quite a different match-up than most would have foreseen at the start of the year. The Patriots and Saints both hold top five scoring defenses. What has been the reason for the Saints turnaround on that side of the football?
Rob Ryan, plain and simple. He has instilled a confidence and swagger that was completely missing last season under Steve Spagnuolo. There is a belief that the defense will not only make stops, but win game for the Saints now, and it is felt from the players, to the coaching staff, to the fans.
2. After a down overall year in 2012, the Saints are back to winning this season. We already mentioned the defense, but what has been the biggest reason for the turnaround?
Sean Payton, and with him a return to normalcy, discipline, and innovation. Sean Payton has complete and total control and everyone on the field knows it. Without him, the Saints lacked focus and direction. Imagine the Pats without Belichick. I know, you can open your eyes now. Brady would only be able to do so much, as Brees did. Interim coaches just weren't going to get it done on the big stage. So yes, Sean Payton is the key.
3. How do you expect Rob Ryan and the Saints to game plan against the Patriots offense? We saw a lot of blitzes
from the Saints against the Bears, is this something you could see continue?
Not necessarily, Ryan has to know that to constantly blitz Brady is to court disaster. I'd expect Ryan to give Brady more looks than he's shown all season, since Brady's the best QB the Saints have faced to this point. Not saying he won't see blitzes, because he will, but I think Ryan will pick his spots carefully.
4. We know about the Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham connection, but what else is it about this Saints offense that makes it so good? On the flipside, is the running game really as bad as people make it out to be?
Versatility. The Saints are able to run a variety of plays from a multitude of formations. The Saints also have a vast array of weapons on offense, most of which aren't household names like Brees and Graham. As others have seen this season, if you focus on Graham then Darren Sproles will gash you, if you go after Marques Colston, then the rest of the deceptively talented receiving corps will wake big plays.
As for the running game, yeah, it's pretty atrocious. The talent is there, but the o-line has been absolutely horrible at run blocking. If Sproles or Pierre Thomas can actually get descent blocking, watch out. For the most part, the screen game has supplemented rushing yardage for the offense.
5. If the Patriots are to beat the Saints on Sunday, what must they do?
They've got to get to Brees, and they've go to do it without selling out the back end of the defense. Pressure from the front line, specifically up the middle is paramount for success against Brees. You slow Brees, you slow the Saints.