The New Orleans Saints’ defense might not receive the same attention as others in the NFL, but it is a legitimate unit in its own right. Otherwise, the team would not sit at 2-2 right now.
Coordinated by veteran coach Joe Woods in his first season with the organization, it is ranked among the better defenses in the NFL right now. Four weeks into the season, it has given up the same number of touchdowns as it has takeaways (six) and ranks in the top-10 in both expected points added (-0.050/play) and DVOA (-7.2%).
For a New England Patriots offense that has had its fair share of issues this season and is coming off a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the unit will present a sizable challenge. The question is, what can be done to overcome it?
Naturally, it all starts with turnovers. The Patriots have given the ball away seven times already this season, including thrice through quarterback Mac Jones alone during last week’s 38-3 debacle in Dallas.
Taking care of the football will be a key once again, because doing so would have a trickle-down effect on the entire game script. It might, for example, help the Patriots reach one of the goals they seemingly have set for themselves heading into Week 5: playing the game on their own terms, for once.
Falling behind early in three of their four contests so far — i.e. all three of their losses — threw them off script and they never recovered. The Patriots as of October 6, 2023 are simply not built to play the game like that and expect positive results.
Which brings us back to a Saints defense that has made a living out of disrupting defenses that put themselves in challenging situations, especially on the late downs.
“They do a great job on third down,” said center David Andrews this week. “Biggest thing helping us can be winning first and second down, kind of playing third down a little bit more on our terms. It’s not a team you really want to sit back there in 3rd-and-10-plus and try to play them in that way.”
Staying out of long-yardage situations is always a goal, and especially against a team like the Saints with plenty of disruptive potential up front. For an offense like the Patriots’, which has struggled in the trenches, exposing themselves like that could spell disaster.
Led by players such as edge rushers Cameron Jordan and Carl Granderson, New Orleans is very much capable of exploiting issues in pass protection — particularly knowing Joe Woods’ penchant for calling line games.
The Saints have been one of the league's best pass rushes when using stunts, where rookie NT Bryan Bresee has looked great and Demario Davis fills a Hightower-esque as a penetrator/looper— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 5, 2023
NO doesn't blitz often, but they do occasionally send pressure from the slot pic.twitter.com/mdgd24L07U
The Patriots, who DraftKings Sportsbook has listed as 1-point favorites, will inevitably find themselves in situations playing into the defense’s hands; that is just the nature of the game and the state their offense is in right now. Keeping those vulnerable moments at a minimum, however, will be important throughout the afternoon.
“It stars with winning that first play,” said Andrews. “Have a good first down, good second down, good third down, keep it moving; maybe skip a third down. Just stringing good plays together, one after another being alright. Just taking it for what it is and moving forward. So, it will be a big challenge this week against a good team — good defense, good front, a lot of experience from the top down.”