By: Adam Wolpert
Happy Sunday NFL Football folk. Week 2 is starting soon and at 1:30 the 0-1 Patriots will take on the 0-1 Saints in New Orleans. With both teams coming off an opening week loss, should we be expecting a hard fought battle from each team to get their first win of the year. If Week 1 was any indication, the answer is yes. Both teams' opening games were far closer than the final scores indicated. While the Patriots allowed the Chiefs to run all over them to the tune of 368 yards through the air and 169 yards on the ground. The opening night loss was among the worst defensive performances of the Belichick-era, and there were not a lot of encouraging moments from this unit. We saw big play after big play, a failure to set the edge, a number of blown coverages, and a failure to wrap guys up. But the offense was another story.
Although Tom Brady failed to throw for a single TD pass, he did throw for a respectable 267 yards and offseason addition Mike Gillislee rushed for 3 TD's in his debut with the team. The thing that stuck out to me on offense was missed opportunity: some bad misses by Brady, bad play selection, and bad pacing and clock management. In the NFL, you'd like to think that 27 points should be enough to win a game at least 50% of the time, and that score could've been higher had the Patriots elected for a QB sneak or a field goal rather than a dive up the middle. If the Patriots are able to sure up their play calling on offense this week, and utilize RB's Dion Lewis and James White to a good extent in the passing game due to the absence of WR Danny Amendola, we could be in for a similar outcome on this side of the ball. The defense ultimately has the most to prove, and it will be interesting to see how they respond after an embarrassing showing against the Chiefs. The unit will be without key-cog LB/DE Donta Hightower, but other guys will have to step up, and the secondary will have to be at the top of their game. The Saints on the other hand were shorthanded at the WR position in Week 1 and Drew Brees clearly missed his go to guys in Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks. Snead will not see the field until Week 4 when he comes off of his 3 game suspension and Cooks is going to be suiting up for us from now on, so lucky for us, those guys aren't coming to Brees' aid. But he did start to connect with guys during the 4th quarter against Minnesota after scoring only 9 points through the first 3 quarters. The running game on the other hand was terribly ineffective, with rookie Alvin Kamara and vet Adrian Peterson posting 18 yards a piece on 7 and 6 carries respectively. This could be either really good news or a concern for the Patriots weakened front 7. What else should we look for in this Week 2 matchup? Here are 3 things that are on the top of my list...
1 ) Patriots Pass Catchers
Tom Brady may have had a down-week against the Chiefs, but he is not the big reason of my concerns with this group. The teams leading receiver, Danny Amendola (6 catches, 100 yards), will not see the field later this afternoon, so it is important that at least one guy steps up to the plate to make up for his loss of production. Brandin Cooks showed in his debut that he is a big-play threat racking up 88 yards on 3 receptions, and he also drew a few pass interference calls. In his return to New Orleans, I'm looking for him to take the cover off of a weak Saints secondary that allowed over 346 yards to Sam Bradford and 93 yards and 2 TD's to a similar WR in Stefon Diggs. TE Rob Gronkowski got off to a rather slow start to yet another comeback campaign, but I'm expecting him to have a better game against the Saints who will not field a single player on defense who plays at the same level as the great Eric Berry. However, the true key to the passing game may not be Cooks or Gronkowski, but rather pass catching RB's Dion Lewis and James White. White saw a pretty decent workload on the ground and through the air against Kansas City, while Lewis only saw the field for 9 snaps. If Lewis can add help in the passing game, that will be of great importance to the overall flow on this side of the ball. Guys like TE Dwayne Allen, RB Rex Burkhead, and WR Phillip Dorsett should hope to be more involved in this week's gameplay as well.
2 ) Can the defense turn it around?
As I mentioned before, the Patriots defensive showing against the Chiefs was amongst the worst during the Bill Belichick era which has fielded a number of stout defenses, as well as the 31st ranked defense in the league back in 2011-2012, a season in which we made the Super Bowl. Lucky for us, the talent on this defense far exceeds the one that ranked 31st in the league and it's overall performance will more likely be a matter of adapting and execution, rather than an overall lack of talent. A secondary boasting CB's Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Eric Rowe and FS Devin McCourty should be able to hold their own against a weekend Saints passing attack. The main concern with this defense will be the front 7, which clearly missed DE Rob Ninkovich, LB/DE Jabaal Sheard, and DE Chris Long, who were all good edge setter's last season. With Hightower being inactive, guys like LB Elandon Roberts, LB/DE Harvey Langi, and LB David Harris will likely have to play more snaps than they did against Kansas City. This will be a good test for the defense.
3 ) Will the Saints rushing attack show up?
The last key to the outcome of this game will be whether or not the Saints can gain any sort of traction on the ground against the Patriots front 7. As I mentioned before, the rushing attack was basically non-existent against the Vikings in Week 1, and while a big reason for this could've been Minnesota's stood defensive line, Peterson looked noticeably slower and he and Kamara struggled to find any goo running lanes for decent yardage. I expect Mark Ingram, who I believe is the best RB in this group as far as fit goes in the Saints' offense, to get more touches against New England. Ingram brings a dual-threat skill set that you can't count of Peterson or Kamara for, so it will be interesting to see what kind of approach New Orleans opts for today. TE Colby Fleener is a good pass catching TE, but he doesn't factor into the running game as a respectable blocker like Dwayne Allen or Rob Gronkowski, so the Patriots should exploit that matchup advantage by stacking a LB or SS on the line or a few yards off as a sub-LB/DE to help set the edge against the rushing attack.
My score prediction from Week 1 was off and I most likely was not the only one. I predicted that the Patriots would get off to a fast start on both sides of the ball, and they did but they were unable to sustain that level of play throughout. The defense looked good on the first play, creating an early turnover forcing a fumble, but the rest of the night was not too kind. The game was actually close going into the 4th quarter, and we had a small lead, but the defense pissed it away allowing 21 points in the 4th quarter, which will lead to a loss probably 100% of the time. With the Patriots injuries on both sides of the ball, I still think it'll take a little time for guys to gel. The talent is there, but against the Chiefs the winning attitude was not. Against New Orleans, look for a better defensive performance and a more consistent offensive attack due to a better use of the pass catching RB's. I'm taking the Patriots over the Saints, 34-21.
Picture: (Boston Globe)