The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints are almost mirror images of one another heading into their Week 5 matchup. Both are coming of lopsided losses; both have struggled to get going offensively so far; both field a strong defense capable of making them competitive; both operate with rookies at the kicker and punter positions.
For the Patriots, this mix has so far led to only one win and three defeats. The Saints, on the other hand, managed to earn two victories over the first four weeks of the season.
As a look at some key statistics shows, however, they have been far from exciting:
- Record: 2-2 (3rd NFC South)
- Offense: 15.5 points/game (25th), 285.3 yards/game (23rd), -0.096 EPA/play (22nd)
- Defense: 19.0 points/game (9th), 304.3 yards/game (11th), -0.050 EPA/play (10th)
- Scoring differential: -14 (t-20th)
- Turnover differential: 0 (15th)
The team of second-year head coach Dennis Allen ranks below average in multiple offensive categories, and is a fringe top-10 unit on the defensive side of the ball. That might ultimately be enough to propel them into a playoff spot in a weak NFC South, but it creates a small margin for error on a week-to-week basis.
With that all said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s Week 5 opponent and what to expect of the players on its roster.
(Note: 53-man roster up-to-date as of Wednesday, 7 a.m. ET; *indicates projected starter)
Derek Carr* (4), Jameis Winston (2), Jake Luton (16)
Long-time Las Vegas Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr found his way to New Orleans this season, to reunite with his former head coach, Dennis Allen. So far, the combo has led to mediocre results both for the Saints offense as a whole and Carr individually: four games into his stint with the team, he has completed 80 of 124 pass attempts (64.5%) for 763 yards and two touchdowns and interceptions each.
Carr is entering the Patriots game with some injury questions. He hurt his shoulder two weeks ago in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, and while able to suit up for the following contest is not at a hundred percent. Accordingly, the Saints opted to re-sign Jameis Winston to bolster the depth at the position.
Alvin Kamara* (41), Tony Jones Jr. (34), Adam Prentice (46 | FB), Kendre Miller (25)
Star running back Alvin Kamara returned from a three-game suspension last week, and promptly took over as New Orleans’ top running back option again. He carried the ball 11 times for 51 yards in his debut and caught 13 passes for 33 yards.
Beside Kamara, the Saints also have Tony Jones Jr. as their RB2. Their season-long leaders in rushing attempts and yards, meanwhile, are not part of this current group of backs: Jamaal Williams, whose 27 carries lead the team, is on injured reserve; Taysom Hill, who has gained 101 yards, is more of an all-purpose player than one clearly fitting into a positional box.
Chris Olave* (12), Michael Thomas* (13), Rashid Shaheed* (22 | KR | PR), Keith Kirkwood (18), Lynn Bowden Jr. (5), A.T. Perry (17)
The Saints’ wide receiver position so far has been a two-man show: Chris Olave and Michael Thomas are the top options at the position, with the former having caught 23 passes for 306 yards so far this season and the latter contributing 22 receptions for 219. They will again play a majority of snaps against New England’s banged up secondary.
Also worth mentioning is WR3 Rashid Shaheed, who has been on the receiving end of 12 passes for 185 yards and a score. Not only is he an inside/out weapon just like Olave and Thomas, he also is the Saints’ designated return man.
Juwan Johnson* (83), Jimmy Graham (80), Taysom Hill (7), Foster Moreau (87)
We’ve thrown the aforementioned Taysom Hill in this pot, but he really is a player capable of filling every non-lineman role on offense. He has lined up at quarterback, in the backfield, in-line, in the slot, and split out wide — wherever the Saints see fit on any given play.
The traditional tight end group, meanwhile, consists of Juwan Johnson as the top option and veterans Jimmy Graham and Foster Moreau as rotational pieces alongside him.
Trevor Penning* (70 | LT), Ryan Ramczyk* (71 | RT), Landon Young (67)
The Saints’ offensive line has been a problem so far this season, and the play of left tackle Trevor Penning is a big part of it. The second-year man has surrendered a team-high 13 quarterback pressures so far, including three sacks. His counterpart, Ryan Ramczyk, has also given up a trio of takedowns, but only six disruptions total.
Interior offensive line
Andrus Peat* (75 | LG), Erik McCoy (78 | C), Cesar Ruiz* (51 | RG), James Hurst (74), Max Garcia (73), Nick Saldiveri (64)
New Orleans’ interior O-line has not been much better than the tackle spot. The group has struggled with personnel consistency, with starting guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz both missing time due to injury; Peat left last week’s game against Tampa Bay with a concussion, leaving his status for Sunday in question.
In case he is unable to go, James Hurst — who has actually played 100 percent of offensive snaps so far this year — will again be the next man up. His pass blocking has also been uneven.
Interior defensive line
Nathan Shepherd* (93), Khalen Saunders* (99), Bryan Bresee (90), Malcolm Roach (97)
The Saints do not feature the biggest names along their interior defensive line, but Nathan Shepherd and in particular Khalen Saunders have played some solid football so far this year. That said, they do not pose as big a threat as some of the other players the Patriots have faced so far this year.
Cameron Jordan* (94), Carl Granderson* (96), Tanoh Kpassagnon (92), Isaiah Foskey (55), Kyle Phillips (91)
While New Orleans’ interior D-line does not consists of many prominent names, the edge is led by eight-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan. Even at age 34, Jordan is a disruptive player who has registered a team-high 19 quarterback pressures — despite only notching one half-sack.
The team leader in QB takedowns, meanwhile, is his running mate Carl Granderson. The former undrafted rookie has developed into a key piece for the Saints on defense, and is a player the Patriots cannot take lightly opposite Jordan.
Demario Davis* (56), Pete Werner* (20), Zack Baun (53), D’Marco Jackson (52), Nephi Sewell (45), Ty Summers (43)
Demario Davis has had a career resurgence since arriving in New Orleans in 2018, and entered this season having been voted either first- or second-team All-Pro in four straight years. He again is the central piece of the Saints’ defense this season — a player who rarely leaves the field and has a knack for finding the football.
His running mate, meanwhile, is third-year man Pete Werner. The former second-round draft pick is the team leader in tackles.
Marshon Lattimore* (23), Alontae Taylor* (1), Paulson Adebo* (29), Isaac Yiadom (27)
Marshon Lattimore continues to be one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, but his fellow starters — Alontae Taylor and Paulson Adebo — have played some solid football as well this year. Adebo, a top option on the perimeter, has missed back-to-back games with a hamstring issue, though.
Tyrann Mathieu* (32), Jordan Howden* (31), Lonnie Johnson Jr. (28), J.T. Gray (48), Ugo Amadi (0)
With Marcus Maye on the suspension list, the Saints have turned to fifth-round rookie Jordan Howden to take over the primary spot next to veteran Tyrann Mathieu. The team also has former second-round draft pick Lonnie Johnson Jr. as a third option.
Blake Grupe (19 | K), Lou Hedley (39 | P | H), Zach Wood (49 | LS)
As mentioned above, the Saints are also going with the rookie combo at kicker and punter. Their duo went undrafted, but has looked solid: Blake Grupe has gone 9-for-10 on field goals and a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points; Lou Hedley’s punts have generated a gross gain of 43.1 yards and a net of 39.1.
The aforementioned Rashid Shaheed is the main return man. He has run back six punts for 143 yards — including a 76-yard touchdown in Week 3 against Green Bay. He has also gained 228 yards on his 11 kickoff returns.