We are on Week 2 in the NFL and the schedule this weekend has the Patriots traveling down to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Neither team got off to the start that they wanted to kick off the season and both teams enter the week at 0-1.
The Patriots had a rare 4th quarter meltdown at home against the Chiefs and allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter to lose 42-27. The defense gave up big plays for touchdowns and the offense, despite scoring 27 points never got untracked.
The Saints went to Minnesota and dropped an ugly one as well 29-19. Drew Brees and the offense in five trips to the red zone could only manage four field goals and a touchdown. And the defense consistently gave up big plays on third down as Sam Bradford had his way with them.
Both teams will be looking to bounce back this week as teams that start the year 0-2 rarely have success in making the playoffs or reaching the Super Bowl. New Orleans, especially their offense, however, always play much better in the Super Dome. Here are our five first impressions of the Saints before this week’s game.
Minnesota Picked on De’Vante Harris in the Opener: Week 1 is the classic overreaction week in the NFL. Just look around, the fans from 15 teams are already looking on StubHub for tickets to Super Bowl LII, while fans from 15 others are in panic mode. However, the Saints knew coming in this year that they are inexperienced at the cornerback position.
And the Vikings saw this and made it a point to pick on cornerback De’Vante Harris. The 2nd year UDFA from Texas A&M got the start and had a rough game. Minnesota QB Sam Bradford had a 100 passer rating when looking in his direction last week. Harris got caught peeking in the backfield at Bradford during a red-zone possession which allowed Stefon Diggs to get behind him for an 18-yard touchdown.
Diggs also beat him on a deep sideline pass in the second quarter that, despite pass interference by Harris was still able to pull it in. We know that the NFL is a copycat league, I’d expect Josh McDaniels to test the young corner early and often this week.
Young Linebackers Make A Good First Impression: The Saints have revamped their linebacking corps and the early results were encouraging. With A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o and rookie Alex Anzalone manning the Saints front seven at linebacker, they are looking for improved play this season.
Klein, who was brought over from the Carolina Panthers this spring had a very solid outing and was active making 11 tackles although he said there was plenty of room for improvement from the unit, especially on the first play of the game where the Saints had only 10 men on the field. “To know we started the season that way was just a lack of communication to start,” he said. “I think that can fall on me. I have to know who is on the field and personnel and make sure everyone is on the field. I take responsibility for that one.”
Anzalone had what coach Sean Payton called a pretty active night. The rookie from Florida had a pair of tackles and a pass defended. He broke up a pass in the end zone on the Vikings first drive that forced them to settle for a field goal.
Red Zone Offense Uncharacteristically Stalls: Last season the Saints were one of the best teams offensively in the red zone. But on Monday night they struggled, albeit against one of the better defensive units in the NFL.
The Saints made five trips into the red zone, with four of them being inside the 10-yard line and of those four trips, they could only manage three field goals and a touchdown, that came in the final two minutes of the game when the score was basically out of reach.
Some of the play calling was curious as they didn’t target Michael Thomas in the red zone during the game. The 2nd year wide receiver caught 92 passes a year ago but on this night had just 5 catches for 45 yards.
Mark Ingram played very sparingly (only 26 snaps) and had just six carries for just 17 yards in the game. He was more effective in the passing game with five catches for 54 yards. The Saints were going mostly with rookie RB Alvin Kamara over Ingram and veteran addition Adrian Peterson.
But credit the Minnesota defense, although they sacked Drew Brees only once, they were able to bring pressure on him and he was constantly under duress.
Offensive Line Needs Work: The Saints brought in running backs Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson this season to bolster the already very good Mark Ingram in an attempt to make the offense more balanced and assert their will on opponents. It would also take some of the onus off of Drew Brees and the passing game. But the offensive line, which was supposed to open up the holes for the running game struggled in Week 1.
Injuries and playing the tough Minnesota defense certainly had a hand in that. Left tackle Terron Armistead was out of the lineup in Minnesota and right tackle Zach Strief left the game with an MCL sprain that may keep him out of the line up for the next few weeks. Those losses, coupled with the Vikes front seven made life difficult for the running backs to find any room to run. Kamara and Peterson managed just 18 yards a piece and Ingram gained just 17.
While the interior of the offensive line remains intact, one area that will bear close scrutiny this week will be the edges. If they can give Drew Brees time to throw and open up some holes for the talented running back trio, the Saints offense will be tough to stop. If not, then the Patriots defense will be looking to assert their own pressure.
Like the Loss of Edelman, the Saints Felt the Loss of Snead: Watching the Saints in the opener, one couldn’t help but notice that the New Orleans passing game was missing their slot receiver Willie Snead in this one. Much like the Patriots in their opener, the loss was even more keenly felt on third down.
While Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn give them production and speed on the outside and TE Coby Fleener is a good, productive pass receiver, having that go-to slot receiver in the middle of the field is always a plus and the Saints could have used Snead who is serving a three game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse rules.
It will be interesting to see if the Saints use Austin Carr this week against his former team. The Patriots signed the UDFA wide receiver this spring and he had a very solid training camp and preseason. He was cut as the team whittled down the 53-man roster and the Saints scooped him up.
Check back with us later this week as we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the key matchups between the Patriots and Saints as we try to piece together who wins and why.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Adrian Peterson Bill Belichick De'Vante Harris Drew Brees Mark Ingram Michael Thomas New England Patriots New Orleans Saints NFL Patriots Sean Payton Tom Brady