In two days, two teams who are a combined 0-2 will play their second regular season game of the year: The New England Patriots will travel to Louisiana to face off against the New Orleans Saints. In preparation for the game, we spoke with (i.e. had an email conversation) with Christopher Dunnells, who covers the Saints for our sister-site canalstreetchronicles.com – make sure to visit them out for New Orleans' perspective on the game.
That being said, here are five questions we asked Christopher and he was kind enough to answer:
1. The Saints were in hot pursuit of Malcolm Butler in free agency. How is the secondary looking right now?
I will hope for your sake that this questions is coming because you didn't watch the game against the Vikings, but goodness gracious did that secondary look bad. For what it's worth, I don't think it actually would have made a difference if Malcolm Butler was on the team or not for this game. If the Saints trade for Butler, they probably don't draft Marshon Lattimore, and Lattimore was fine (absent a couple rookie mistakes on reading routes) on Monday Night Football. If the Saints don't figure out something between De'Vante Harris, Ken Crawley and PJ Williams until Delvin Breaux returns from injury, the Saints secondary is going to be a hot mess.
2. How are the Saints at covering running backs out of the backfield as receivers?
If the Saints stick a Linebacker on a Running Back in coverage, I actually like the Saints chances. Between Alex Anzalone, AJ Klein and Manti Te'o, the Saints have a strong and athletic trio of backs who looked like they could hold their own in coverage. That's not to say they won't have their mistakes against the speedy James White or Rex Burkhead types, but it is not likely to be as big of an issue as it would be if the Patriots could someone get a Running Back lined up against a Corner (since our Corners can't seem to cover themselves with a blanket).
3. The Saints have been dealing with injuries on the offensive line; what are the current strengths and weaknesses?
The entire offensive line *is* the weakness right now. It looks like the Saints will be without both Terron Armstead and Zach Strief in this game, and that means hard times for Drew Brees and the Saints in pass protection. With outside runs or screens, the Saints might be able to get something done, but don't be surprised when this Saints offensive line struggles both in pass protection and in creating holes for the running game.
4. How have the Saints adjusted to the loss of both Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead?
Well, to be fair, it's only been one game, and Drew Brees was forced to make hurried throws against the Vikings tough defensive line. Coby Fleener was asked to step up for Snead in the middle of the field, and had himself a decent game in the process. The Patriots defensive line, while a challenge, is not quite to the level of the Vikings, so I think this will be the first real test for how Drew Brees is able to spread the ball around after missing two of his top three targets from last year.
5. Who is the rising star on the Saints that Patriots fans need to know about?
I'll give you two, one on both sides of the ball. On offense, rookie Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee led the team Running Backs in snaps last week (a group that contains both Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson). Sean Payton has heaped praises on this kid, even drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. While no one is ready to crown him the Saints RB of the future just yet, he just might be the heir-apparent to the Saints 3-down Back of the future. On defense I'll go with A.J. Klein. He's a smart, athletic Linebacker who is finally getting a chance to be an NFL starter long-term. To this point, he was playing behind All-World LB Luke Kuechly in Carolina, but now he's finally able to step out of Luuuuuuuuuke's shadow and show off his play-making ability.