This weekend will feature a battle of 1-1 teams in Foxborough as both look to gain some direction for the rest o their season. The Patriots had a one-point loss at home to the Dolphins in the opener before making Zach Wilson see ghosts in Metlife in week 2. The Saints absolutely dismantled the Packers in Jacksonville week 1 before putting up a flat performance against the Panthers in week 2. Everybody in New England remembers the last time the Pats hosted Saints and the culmination of the evening with Big Papi sending Torii Hunter head over heels into the Sox bullpen and the birth of a local hero- Bull Pen Cop Steve Horgan.
With the Sox hot before falling flat against the Yanks last night, maybe the Pats can start some magic Sunday afternoon before another absolute night capper by our Boston counterparts.
In a twist, the Pats are facing opponents on back-to-back weeks coming off games against the Panthers (the Panthers played the Jets week 1 and the Saints week 2). While the Panthers operate a different offensive and defensive system than the Patriots, the consistency in film will allow the Patriots to see what works and doesn’t work and incorporate similar philosophies into their game plan.
The Saints faced adversity before the season even started, having to move their football operations to Arlington, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ida. The move and subsequent neutral site home opener seemed to have no ill effects on the Saints team as they blew the doors off the “visiting” Packers 38-3. Famous Jameis had 5 touchdowns on 14 completions and the Saints never looked back. All-World Runningback Alvin Kamara had 83 yards on the ground and added another 8 and a touchdown receiving. The Saints defense got involved as well, sacking Rodgers twice and picking him off twice.
The Saints weren’t done facing adversity as during week 2, seven coaches missed practice time and three were unavailable during the game. Still practicing in Arlington, the Saints traveled to Carolina for a divisional matchup. All the goodwill bought in week 1 was quickly lost as they lost 26-7. Quarterback Jameis Winston showed he’s not done bringing his team on a rollercoaster experience as he threw 2 interceptions and was sacked 4 times. In classic Winston fashion, after being sharp in one week, he made some absolute head-scratching decisions the week following.
Kamara was largely bottled up against the Panthers, rushing for 5 yards and adding another 25 receiving. Whatever the Panthers were doing against Kamara, the Patriots will hope to replicate Sunday. The return of OLB Kyle Van Noy will be an added boost to a front seven that was susceptible to the run game last week. Despite being listed on the injury report all week OLB Matt Judon will be good to go Sunday. The Patriots could be without do-it-all safety Adrian Phillips as he missed the final two practices of the week due to a personal matter. Phillips’ status bears watching Sunday morning. OLB Josh Uche is listed as questionable with a back injury, his absence would lead to a loss of pep in pass-rushing situations as he leads the team in sacks with 3.
There has been much opining about the Patriots’ offense and lack of red zone success and explosive plays in the passing game. A week after seeing just how quickly a rookie QB can torpedo your team’s chances of winning, the New England fan base took to the radio waves and social media in force to complain about the conservative approach the offense has been taking in the passing game. The offensive game plan, while boring for fantasy football and Madden savants, follows the old Belichick (and quote from Art of War) adage that “You can’t win until you keep from losing.” While it’s not splashy and sexy, it is effective. The team was undone by its turnovers in week 1 and despite a 19-point victory in week 2, fans are clamoring for more risks in the passing game. The return of RT Trent Brown should give Mac more time in the pocket on Sunday but expect him to continue to be safe with the ball, especially when throwing in the direction of Pro-Bowl Cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
The Patriots again should be paced by their rushing attack. After being listed all week on the injury report with a finger injury, Damien Harris was removed Friday and will be a full-go for the game. The Pats will look to continue running the ball and set up play-action for their downfield shots in the passing game.
This Saints team reminds me a lot of the 2018 Tennessee Titans; a team that is absolutely talented but struggled to put it together week to week. Those teams are hard to play against as they are a different flavor of football team every Sunday. The week 1 opener showed us a talented team capable of paying incredible complimentary football, while week 2 showed us a team that seemed rudderless against a familiar opponent. Regardless of what version of the Saints shows up on Sunday, the game will be won or lost on third down. The Saints are a mere 7-21 on third down in the season while allowing a similar conversion rate defensively (9-25)> Forcing the Saints to consistently convert on third down will go a long way in deciding the Patriots’ success while avoiding those situations offensively themselves. Bottling up Kamara on the early downs and forcing Jameis to win the game would be the prudent defensive game plan. Offensively, avoiding DE Cam Jordan and staying the course will be successful. While everyone wants the big passing play, avoiding the turnover and staying on schedule is more important for the team at this juncture of the season.
These are the hardest games to decide as the Saints have been such a mixed bag of results in a young season. Sean Payton is a great coach who should never be underestimated in his ability to prepare a team after a showing such as the Saints had last week. Old friend Chris Hogan and his Saints team keep it close in the first half before a couple Jameis turnovers turn the tide in the second. Patriots win 26-16 as their red-zone woes lead to multiple Nick Folk field goals continue for another week.