The New Orleans Saints have a week of three road games against the New England Patriots. Both teams enter the match with 1-1 records.
The Saints arrived here with a 38-3 loss to Green Bay on Matchday 1, but lost 26-7 to Carolina last week. They were missing several assistant coaches and key defensive contributors, but they also put in a disappointing performance in several aspects of the game.
New Orleans surrendered over 300 yards passing Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold and was out of shape throughout the first half. They still have the league’s 7th defense after two weeks and are looking to cause more disruption with the return of several injury defensive players.
New England enter the game ranked 23rd in all-out offense. They are in their second year without future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady, but have led an attack focused on balance and ball control in recent seasons. Rookie QB Mac Jones led an efficient attack that only returned the ball twice, but was backed up by efficient running play.
The Saints have a formidable running defense that has the ability to make the Patriots one-dimensional. If successful, they will still have to play against Jones in what should be a close game.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE VS. PATRIOT PASSAGE ATTACK
New Orleans Pass Defense
The Saints are currently 13th against the pass after last week’s rocky start against Darnold. Missing defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, LB Kwon Alexander, and defensive linemen Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata and Tanoh Kpassagnon in this game.
Lattimore, Gardner-Johnson and Kpassagnon are expected to return this week. However, Onyemata (suspension), Alexander and Davenport (injured reserve) will miss the next matches.
First-round rookie DE Payton Turner made a spectacular debut against the Panthers without Davenport and Kpassagnon. Turner, a bizarre athlete, suffered a sack and 5 presses against Carolina.
The Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan had a statistically calm start to the year, but managed key pressures in each of the first two games. Carl Granderson adds strong depth along the edge, while Kpassagnon gives the defense disruptive snaps at each end or a defensive tackle.
The Saints’ defensive tackles aren’t known without Onyemata. Shy Tuttle, Christian Ringo and Malcolm Roach all have the ability to push a pass pocket to the quarterback. Jordan, Turner and Kpassagnon also have the ability to move indoors in passing situations.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen plays an aggressive pattern focused on pressure on the quarterback. The Saints have 4 sacks and 10 QB hits in two games after 145 sacks in the previous three years.
Most of their disturbance comes from their deep defensive line, but Allen likes to blitz opposing passersby. Defensive back Bradley Roby was sacked last week, S PJ Williams caused an interception with a hit on Darnold and LB Demario Davis is a deadly blitzer.
Davis, one of the NFL’s best all-round defensive players, is equally effective in cover, passer, or run defense. He’s athletic enough to take on a running back out of the backfield or tight cover in the field.
Second-year LB Zack Baun struggled to cover Carolina after a stellar preseason. Baun needs to quickly improve in coverage responsibilities without Alexander.
Second-round rookie LB rookie Pete Werner will see his first action after missing an important time with a hamstring injury. Werner is an athletic defender who improves the cover unit.
Once viewed as a team weakness, the Saints cornerbacks are emerging as a defensive force. Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore is one of the league’s best at this position, capable of knocking out the wider elites in one-on-one clashes. Third-round rookie pick Paulson Adebo got off to a good start, despite being heavily targeted.
Adebo allowed a completion percentage of less than 59% when targeted for just 104 yards while recording an interception.
Veteran CB Bradley Roby also had a solid outing last week after being acquired in a Houston trade. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is one of the best slots covers in the NFL, while veteran CB Desmond Trufant delivers quality depth.
Lattimore, Roby and Adebo all have the covering abilities to play an aggressive man-to-man pattern while also possessing formidable ball recognition. These skills allow Allen to use his safeties in several different roles.
Veteran S Malcolm Jenkins is a passive on men’s cover, but extremely valuable near the line of scrimmage and in deep support above. Marcus Williams has a formidable reach in free safety. He has the athleticism and recognition to be effective in one-safety rosters or alongside Jenkins in two-depth formations.
New England Passing Game
Jones has thrown 74 percent for 467 yards and a single touchdown, but no interceptions so far.
The Patriots are only 26th in passing distance after two games. Jones attacks defenses with sure passes, taking little risk on the pitch at this early stage of his career.
New England’s top receiver is once again RB James White, who hit 12 of 13 targets for 94 yards. White has averaged 65 receptions over the past five years. He believes he is an important part of the passing game as Jones develops.
The Patriots are thin on the sidelines. Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne get most of the shots at the station.
Meyers has 10 receptions for 82 yards, while veteran Agholor has 8 catches for 93 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. Bourne, the team’s best deep threat, has just 3 receptions for 27 yards.
New England focused on improving the tight end position this offseason, bringing the veteran receiving threats Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Henry has 5 receptions for 73 yards, while Smith caught 9 passes for 70 yards. Both players can threaten defenses outside of the line of scrimmage or lunge on the pitch.
White, Smith and Henry are the main targets of the team. New England can also involve lead rusher Damien Harris or rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson in their short passing attack.
Jones has been sacked four times, including three in last week’s victory over the Jets, but was hit nine times in a season opener loss to Miami. Most of that pressure has come from the edges, where LT Isaiah Wynn and RT Trent Brown need to step up pass protection for their quarterback.
Starting C David Andrews is a sound technician, while guards Mike Onwenu and Shaq Mason help Andrews form a solid inside pocket.
What to watch
New Orleans must first stop the Patriots’ rushed play to eliminate a balanced attack and force Jones to beat them with his arm. Dennis Allen will be the young quarterback relentlessly trying to force mistakes.
The Saints need to be able to contain White off the backfield and control the talented New England tight ends. After Baun’s struggles in cover last week, look for Demario Davis and Pete Werner to use heavily in cover roles.
The return of Lattimore and Gardner-Johnson is huge for the defense. New Orleans has an advantage, on paper, with its defensive backs against the Patriots’ wideners.
I expect the Saints to use Gardner-Johnson and a cornerback on tight New England ends, especially when they line up in the lunge. This will allow their linebackers to attack White out of the backfield in an attempt to take away quick passes.
New Orleans will likely play covers of heavy men, expecting their edge rushers to be able to reach Jones along the outside, while also bringing timed blitzers down the middle.
READ MORE NEWS ON THE SAINTS:
Get more Saints News delivered to your inbox for FREE!