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Know your enemy, Week 2: Identifying the New Orleans Saints biggest weakness

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NFL: New York Giants at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are 0-1, and hit the road in week two looking to avoid an 0-2 start that is generally a death warrant for a season.

Obviously, the Patriots very likely can overcome an 0-2 start given the talent of the team and lack thereof among the rest of the division, but factoring in playoff seeding it’s still not a place they want to be. The Patriots are heading into New Orleans to play another 0-1 team, and on both sides the most interesting matchup is going to be their defense vs. the opponents offense. These are two high-powered offenses led by all-time great QB’s, and which team matches up better on defense will likely decide the game. Every Friday this season we’re going to take a look at the biggest weakness of that week’s opponent, starting here with the Saints pass defense.

New Orleans has become synonymous with two things under Sean Payton—an elite offense helmed by Drew Brees, and an atrocious defense that might struggle to stop an elite high school offense. This year is no different, and while New Orleans spent significant resources on defense this off-season, it’s going to take a year or two to gel and see if their plan worked. For this year, they’re starting two rookies in the secondary and one among their linebackers. The Saints allowed Minnesota to throw all over them this past Monday night, with Sam Bradford completing 27 passes on 32 attempts for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Saints primarily ran a zone defense, allowing a lot of quick hitting and crossing patterns to open up underneath. When the Vikings attacked deep, they often picked on strong safety Kenny Vaccaro and nickel corner De’Vante Harris. Bill Belichick may have praised Vaccaro, but the Texas safety got picked on repeatedly in coverage, something the Patriots should be doing on Sunday. As both current receiving corps stand, the Vikings have slightly more talent (yes, Stefon Diggs is that good, and Adam Thielen is a nice receiver in his own right), but the offensive personnel and scheme between New England and Minnesota actually matches up pretty well. New England should follow Minnesota’s game plan (which, again, works into what New England likes to do anyway) this week and they should find a similar level of success.

Beyond Vaccaro, all of the Saints corners played poorly in week 1. Harris should be the one picked on again this week, but starter PJ Williams was often lost in coverage and rookie first round pick Marshon Lattimore had his lapses as well. Only rookie free safety Marcus Williams graded out positively in coverage according to PFF. The Saints run defense isn’t anything special, but look for this to be a game where Tom Brady and his weapons are heavily utilized.

Running out of a trips bunch, and the slot receiver runs a corner underneath the outside receivers seam. The Saints lose the slot in coverage, and he’s wide open for a big gain.

In zone coverage, the corner passes the tight end off to Vaccaro. Vaccaro was late to react, and the tight end finds the corner for the end zone.

Man coverage, De’Vante Harris gets beat on a sideline comeback by the receiver. Harris looked like he was overcompensating to protect getting beat inside, and instead it goes the other way.

Lastly, another example of Vaccaro’s weakness in coverage. A simple swing to the RB was going to get completed either way, but Vaccaro misdiagnosed the play. With the RB swinging out and the non-play-side guard pulling towards the play-side, Vaccaros first step should’ve been up or towards the sideline. Instead, he steps towards the middle of the field and let’s the play gain more than it should’ve.

Tom Brady might throw more than 40 passes this week, and if they don’t find a higher level of success passing the ball this week it might be time to start worrying a little. Alas, don’t expect that to happen. Patriots 38, Saints 24.