The Patriots return home for a big Week 3 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Yes, that’s right Week 3, “are you sure? all we’re seeing is Week 4 and Tampa” Repeat after me….”Tampa Bay is N-E-X-T week.
This week’s game will be broadcast by FOX and can be seen locally on WFXT-TV Channel 25. Adam Amin will handle play-by-play duties with Mark Schlereth as the color analyst. Shannon Spake will report from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots and Saints are the top 2 scoring teams in the last decade but those offenses were with Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Now the Saints come in with Jameis Winston and the Patriots counter with rookie Mac Jones.
The teams haven’t met since 2017 so it is safe to say, besides the QBs, both teams are vastly different since last they met. But overall the Patriots are 10-4 against the Saints and an NFL best 59-17 (.776) against the NFC since realignment in 2002.
The Patriots (1-1) beat the New York Jets 25-6 in New Jersey. The defense intercepted Zach Wilson four times and the offense got touchdown runs by Damien Harris and James White.
The Saints (1-1) dropped their game in Carolina 26-7 as the offense had its lowest output in the Sean Payton era. Winston was under duress all game long and threw two ill-advised interceptions.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2021 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
The Patriots’ running game has been okay but not the dominant force we expected to begin the season. And a big part of that is the offensive line has yet to play up to anywhere near its potential. While Trent Brown has been out, it can’t all be blamed on the right tackle position… across the board, a better effort is needed.
The Saints’ defense is stellar against the run, allowing just 66 yards per game, and a 2.8-yard average. Last week they held Christian McCaffrey in check as he only averaged 3 yards per rushing attempt. Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Carl Granderson, and Tanoh Kpassagnon anchor the defensive line The linebackers, Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, Kaden Elliss, and Zack Baun are a very solid group.
However, last week the Saints had a near injury epidemic on defense as Alexander, Marshon Lattimore, Kpassagnon, Davenport, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson all suffered injuries during the game. But they may get most if not all back this week.
It looks to be tough sledding for Harris, White, and J.J. Taylor/Rhamondre Stevenson this week.
At first glance, I’d give this nod to New Orleans as their secondary is outstanding and the best in the red zone, an area where the Patriots …to put it mildly, are struggling. But the injuries to Lattimore and Gardner-Johnson, who at the minimum could be less than 100 percent or worse miss the game entirely, could open the door for the Patriots to get things going. The pass rush will be something to monitor especially if Davenport and Kpassagnon can play. Keep an eye on Saints rookie Payton Turner on Sunday.
The Patriots’ passing game is hinged on Mac Jones’ development, and while he’s completing about 74 percent of his throws, his 6.2 yards per attempt is around the bottom third of the league. He needs to get his WRs (Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers) more involved in downfield passing. Ditto for the tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. If they can attack the seams, it will open up things a bit more for backs James White and Taylor underneath.
Next up is the New Orleans offense:
The Patriots’ run defense was gashed badly by the Jets last week, and the lopsided score in the fourth quarter helped that from being worse. We all know that Bill Belichick loves to take away what a team does best, and in this case, right now that is Alvin Kamara. We expect to see the Patriots make Kamara their focus this week. But the linebackers and defensive front will have to turn things up quite a bit if that is to happen.
The Saints offense needs Kamara to get untracked to help Winston and the passing game to open up. And the Patriots defense may just well be what the doctor ordered. Kamara is a dynamic back with the ball in his hands. However, the offensive line has some injury concerns. Center Erik McCoy missed last week’s game and right guard Cesar Ruiz played and had a rough week as Winston was under constant pressure.
If the Saints get McCoy back this week (he didn’t practice on Weds), it will be a big positive for the offense. But the feeling here is Kamara will have a big day on the ground.
The Patriots’ secondary had a huge game against the Jets and Zach Wilson, intercepting him four times en route to the team’s big win on the road last week. And this week against a limited Saints WR corps, they should be in good shape to limit what Winston can do against them.
Winston is the ultimate feast or famine QB in the NFL. In Week 1, he tore it up against the Packers and passed for 5 TDs while tossing just 20 passes. Last week against the Panthers, the script was completely flipped, getting picked off twice and passing for just 111 yards. Without Michael Thomas, the Saints wide receivers Marquez Calloway, Deonte Harris, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Chris Hogan have put up a combined nine catches on the season. The key here (again) is stopping Kamara out of the backfield.
The Patriots will look to get the Saints in obvious passing situations and bring pressure on a suspect offensive line to force Winston into making some mistakes. And that has been the knock on Winston, that is fully justified. He has great talent but has always been prone to making poor decisions with the ball.
The Patriots Nick Folk set the franchise record (dating back to last year) of making 33 straight field goals. And with an offense that is struggling to get the ball in the end zone, that is extremely important. Jake Bailey is outstanding at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line.
New Orleans counters with Aldrick Rosas kicking since Wil Lutz is on IR. Punter Blake Gillikin has a terrific 44.5-yard net punting average. Watch out for returner Deonte Harris who is dangerous. The Patriots need to light a fire under their return team. This would be a good week to do so.
This week’s game will definitely have a different feel to it with the big changes at QB but it is also an important matchup for both teams. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Saints have effectively been on the road for a month because of the hurricane and have been working out of Fort Worth, TX. They’ll be going home immediately after this week’s game but the team could have a fatigue factor here. It may be nothing, but don’t discount it completely either.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Limit Kamara and Force the Game into Winston’s Hands – Easier said than done right? Kamara is going to get his yards against the defense, but they have to limit the big plays and stop him from being a consistent chains moving target. If they can do that, Winston’s penchant for making poor decisions should play into their hands.
Get the Pass Rush Home – The Patriots brought good pressure on Wilson last week and facing an offensive line in flux right now is a good time to be a bit more aggressive in attacking the offense and putting them in a hole. Josh Uche and Kyle Van Noy should be key here. Will Matthew Judon (knee injury) be able to go on Sunday? He’s already a big part of the defense.
Open Up the Passing Game to Get the Running Game Going – The Saints, as we previously mentioned have an excellent secondary. But if they’re missing several key players to their defense, it would be a good time to take advantage of it. The Panthers picked on Zack Braun last week, and the tight ends should seek to do the same.
That would open up avenues for the running game to get going and thus control the tempo of this one.
This one could easily go either way. But the fact that it is in New England definitely helps. That and the Saints, as we mentioned above, have been living away from home for the past month. Plus the Saints (with the exception of Week 1), have traditionally not been the same team on the road and outdoors.
We like the home team to hold serve here…Patriots 23-20
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