This is a Pivotal Week for the 2023 Season
The Patriots are coming off their worst defeat in the Bill Belichick era, a 38-3 pasting by Dallas. They return home this week to face the 2-2 New Orleans Saints, and this game is a pivotal one for the 2023 season.
Not only did the Patriots get soundly beaten in Dallas, but they lost two of their best members of the defense. CB Christian Gonzalez, the league’s defensive rookie of the month for September, is gone for the season after tearing his shoulder labrum. Matthew Judon tore a biceps tendon and may also be done for the year but has vowed to return later in the season.
With an offense struggling badly and yet to score more than 20 points this season, the defense was holding games close to give them a chance. Now, the team is down its top four cornerbacks, their best edge rusher, and arguably the best player on the team.
The team made a trade for former Patriot All-Pro J.C. Jackson earlier this week, and we’re not sure he’d be ready to play on Sunday, but his presence would boost the defense. Jon Jones, who has missed the past three games, may also return this week.
It certainly would help matters. But this is the 2023 version of “We’re on to Cincinnati.” If they lose and fall to 1-4, the season could unravel quickly for them. But a win would improve them to 2-3 and hopefully get them back on track.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins will work 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.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriot offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Saints Front Seven — Edge New Orleans
The Patriots’ running game was non-existent in Dallas last week. Rhamondre Stevenson is only averaging 2.7 yards per carry this season and has only one TD. Ezekiel Elliott has averaged 4.1 yards per carry, but that was mostly from the Jets game, and he doesn’t have a TD yet. For a team that wants to set the tone by running the football, having one rushing TD in four games isn’t getting it done.
Granted, the offensive line has not been good, but they must and should get more from their backs. Some of the struggles have been with play design, with Mac Jones in the shotgun too much. Stevenson and Elliot are downhill runners; they need to take advantage of that more in the coming weeks by putting Jones under center.
The Saints have been good at stopping the run (11th), and their interior guys, Nathan Shepherd, and Khalen Saunders eat up blocks at the point of attack, allowing Demario Davis and Pete Werner to clean up inside. Davis is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who is always around the ball. DE Cameron Jordan does an excellent job of setting the edge.
The Patriots must be able to run the football and look for more plays where they pull guards and get their big OL men going downhill and getting the backs to the second level. This will open up play-action passing for Jones.
Patriots WRs vs. Saints Secondary — Edge New Orleans
Mac Jones had a good first quarter against Dallas, and then the walls came crashing down. After that, it was a nightmarish game for him, giving way to Bailey Zappe, who struggled as well. The Patriots have been getting few returns for Devante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and it may be time to gear the passing game more toward Kendrick Bourne and Demario Douglas, who have been more productive despite playing in far fewer snaps.
The Saints’ defense has five interceptions in the season, and the secondary is led by Marshon Lattimore and safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is a playmaker in the middle of the field. CB Paulson Adebo and S Jordan Howden missed last week’s loss to Tampa Bay but are trending toward playing this week. The Saints, however, don’t get a lot of pressure on opposing QBs (31st in the NFL).
Against a good secondary, look for Jones to go to quick slants and crossers to take on New Orleans’ defense, which will probably feature a lot of man coverage, knowing that this is what the Patriots struggle the most against.
Next up is the New Orleans offense:
Saints RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Saints, like New England, have struggled to run the football, in part because of OL issues. But they got Alvin Kamara back last week, and he injected some life into the running game, averaging nearly five yards per carry against the Bucs. Taysom Hill is the Saints’ change-of-pace runner/QB and leads the team in rushing. He’ll have to be accounted for whenever he enters the game.
The Patriots’ run defense has been solid this season, although they had some hiccups along the way. With Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore banged up, it could hurt the interior running of New Orleans.
But with Matthew Judon out, we’ll probably see more Anfernee Jennings on early downs and is a very good edge-setter in the running game. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai are also excellent downhill thumpers.
Saints WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge New England
The Patriot pass defense may have J.C. Jackson and Jon Jones at boundary corner this week, or one or the other, or neither. If they aren’t ready to go, expect a ton of zone coverage with Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade at boundary corner, with possibly some Jalen Mills mixed in.
The Saints have Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and speedster Rashid Shaheed at WR, Juwan Johnson and Jimmy Graham at TE, and Kamara out of the backfield, which provides Derek Carr with some good weapons. But their OL is struggling, and Carr is banged up; he’s far from 100 percent right now.
The key for New England is to get pressure on Carr and take some of the pressure off of the banged-up corner position. Judon’s loss is huge in the pass rush department. However, even with Judon out, they still have Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, Keion White, Barmore, and Jennings, who can after the QB a bit.
What the Patriots really need is for the defense to start generating some turnovers. The overall unit is too good to have just one INT and one FR in four games. This, too, will have to change.
Special Teams — Edge New Orleans
The Patriots’ Chad Ryland is 4-7 on field goals but was victimized by two bad snaps; he missed a 52-yarder in Dallas. Punter Bryce Barringer is averaging 43.9 yards per punt, with 11 inside the 20-yard line. The STs units are still making mistakes, getting flagged for holding, and allowing a fake PAT 2-point conversion last week in Dallas. They’ve gotten virtually nothing from their returns with Marcus Jones out.
New Orleans has Lou Hedley punting; he’s put eight inside the 20 and is averaging 43.1 yards per punt. Rookie Blake Grupe is 9-10 on field goals thus far. His only miss was against Green Bay at the end of the game. Shaheed had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown, and his speed makes him a dangerous returner.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots are looking for their first win of the season at home. They have a lot of issues to fix, especially on offense, as they have to get things sorted out and start scoring more than 13 points a game. It puts far too much pressure on the defense.
Three Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Run the Ball Effectively — This key remains the same as last week. The Patriots need to play with Mac Jones more under center and grind out some yardage on the ground, preferably between the tackles. New Orleans has a very good front seven, but as crazy as it sounds, this is probably the least effective DL they’ve faced this season.
The key, once again, is to get their backs running downhill, something they are well suited for. By keeping Jones under center, if they can get anything going on the ground, it will allow Jones to use play action.
Get Some Speedier Players Involved — The Patriots, other than Hunter Henry, don’t have the trust of Jones and haven’t gotten nearly enough YAC, which makes it really tough to have to go 10-14 plays down the field in order to score. Going more to Douglas and Bourne gives them a chance to make some of those chunk plays the offense is sorely missing. It may be time to give Boutte another shot to play. The skill guys just aren’t getting it done.
Start Generating Turnovers Defensively — The Patriots have two (2) turnovers this season on defense. Yes, they’ve had some 4th down stops, which count as turnovers, but they really need to start giving Jones and the offense some shorter fields to operate in. Expect the Patriots to play zone more with two high safeties and try to scheme some pressure on Carr.
The Saints’ OL has not played well, and they are banged up as well; the Patriots need to attack defensively and get Carr, who is not healthy, to make some mistakes and get a turnover or two.
The Patriots can win this game, which will probably feel a lot like a Patriots-Jets contest. But they have to play a lot cleaner. The mistakes have been killing them in their losses and in their one narrow win. The Saints beat the Titans and the Panthers before losing to the Packers and Bucs in successive weeks.
This is an important week for the Patriots after the debacle in Dallas. How they respond this week may tell us a lot about this team in 2023. Bill Belichick said after the Dallas game that this team is better than what showed up on the field. Will they play like that this week? We shall see. Patriots 20-17
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Cameron Jordan Chris Olave Demario Davis Demario Douglas Derek Carr Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Marshon Lattimore Matthew Judon Michael Thomas New England Patriots New Orleans Saints Patriots edge rushers Rashid Shaheed