Tom E. Curran's Patriots vs. Saints preview and prediction originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New Orleans Saints are where the Patriots were last year. A Hall of Fame quarterback has departed. There’s roster tumult as bills from the end of the salad days are coming due.
It’s a team in flux. It’s also a team that’s 1-1 just like the Patriots. Neither of New Orleans' two games were close. They demolished Green Bay and got demolished by Carolina.
U.S. & World
The Patriots ought to be 2-0. They gave away the opener against the Dolphins. They handled the overmatched Jets but they didn’t look as good on the field as they did on the scoreboard.
This is the Saints' third week on the road after playing their opener in Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. That’s exhausting.
The Patriots have this game just ahead of next week’s biggie with Tampa. Could be distracting. But with both coaches, my feeling is this is going to be a fascinating chess match.
When the Patriots have the ball
The Patriots have been over 100 yards rushing in both games but they haven’t show down-in, down-out consistency. A few big gainers have been mixed in to buoy those stats.
The Saints have been really good so far against the run allowing 2.8 yards per attempt and did good work last week slowing down Christian McCaffrey. The Saints are tough in the secondary and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is a creative mind so it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Patriots get against the Saints after a week of discussion about throwing downfield a bit more
This is a big game for the Patriots offensive line which hasn’t performed well through two weeks especially at the two tackle spots.
When the Saints have the ball
In Week 1, the Saints stayed on the field all day against Green Bay. Two 15-play drives in the first half while putting the game out of reach then three short touchdown drives at the end to make it a rout. And the precise opposite happened in Week 2 against the Panthers as the Saints went 1 for 5 on third down in the first half and fell behind 17-0.
Though the Saints are trying to rein Jameis Winston in, he will put a few up for grabs every now and then (though not on a Zach Wilson level). The Saints offense runs through Alvin Kamara so expect the Patriots to focus fully on taking him away and making someone else beat them.
The kicking game
Nick Folk and Jake Bailey continue to be the NFL’s best right foot combo. Folk is 7 for 7 on field goals through two games. The Patriots would no doubt like to see him less busy on those and finish some of their red zone drives.
Bailey’s got a 39.1 net punting average but rebounded nicely last week after an uncharacteristic touchback in Week 1. Saints punter Blake Gillikin has a 44.5 net. Aldrick Rosas has made his lone field goal attempt for the Saints.
Saints returner Deonte Harris is a problem. He handles kickoffs and punts and is averaging 31 on KORs and 13 on punt returns (though he’s only had one off those).
Patriots medical report
QUESTIONABLE: T Trent Brown (calf), S Adrian Phillips (not injury related – personal matter), LB Josh Uche (back).
Saints medical report
OUT: C Erik McCoy (calf).
Game within the game
Downfield fixation. It’s been everywhere (my Twitter feed included). It will come. I don’t think any defense wants to be standing back and staring at Jones daring him to take a shot. I saw way too much absurd downfield accuracy over the summer to think he can’t drop them in.
But while Jones needs more time to feel comfortable getting it downfield, the Patriots offense should still be in a “take what’s there” mode. In short, don’t force it to prove a point.
Saints gotta stop
As much as we’ve discussed the possibility of Mac Jones getting a little more aggressive downfield and the myriad reasons he hasn’t, until further notice, the passing game’s going to run through James White. Screens, option routes, checkdowns, they are the smart plays against talented and aggressive defenses and the Saints have that, especially against the run. So instead of banging their head against the wall with Damien Harris we may see them do the running game as passing game.
Patriots gotta stop
Through two games, the multi-talented back hasn’t gotten going. He’s run 28 times for 88 yards (3.1 YPC) and caught 7 for 33 and a touchdown. Dont’a Hightower described Kamara this week as “the perfect back.” And Bill Belichick said of Kamara, “He does everything well. Very good in the passing game. His production has been phenomenal. … His yards from scrimmage, he’s been at the very top since he’s been in the league. He’s got good speed, quickness. He’s tough to tackle. Good vision. Versatile guy. Get him the ball a lot of different ways, and they do, and he produces with it.”
The winner is...
Patriots 17, Saints 16