The 1-1 New Orleans Saints and 1-1 New England Patriots face off this afternoon. The game will pit arguably the two best head coaches in the NFL against one another in a chess match of strategy.
Sean Payton of the Saints and Bill Belichick of New England are the two longest tenured coaches in the league. Each have contrasting specialties that makes their battle perhaps the biggest matchup in the game.
Payton is in his 15th official season with New Orleans. Belichick has been with the Patriots for 22 years. The two have combined for 425 victories and have won 66% of their games. Over the last four seasons, Payton's Saints and Belichick's Patriots have a. 719 combined winning percentage.
Belichick is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Payton may need another Super Bowl title to clinch his spot, but even now stands a good chance to get inducted because the way he helped change sports culture in New Orleans.
Each man came from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, armed with the same discipline as their hard-nosed mentor. Payton and Belichick were both assistant coaches with the New York Giants at one time in their careers.
Both men are attempting to prove to the world that they can win without the legendary quarterbacks that are intertwined with their legacy. Belichick is in his second year without Tom Brady, coming off a 7-9 season without him. Payton is reconstructing his offense after the retirement of QB Drew Brees.
Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are the unquestioned men in charge of their entire franchise. Regardless of title, there is no decision that happens anywhere in their organizations without their stamp of approval.
Belichick is viewed as one of the best defensive coaches in the history of the NFL. He is a master at taking away an opponent's best weapon, then exposing their biggest weaknesses.
Payton is regarded as one of the most innovative offensive minds in league history. He'll meticulously study film of opposing defenses and his own players, then constructs his game plans to successfully dissect an opponent.
It is on this side of the ball that the most intriguing chess match of any game this weekend will take place. It doesn't matter who has the title of defensive coordinator for New England; this unit’s activity comes directly from Belichick. Payton has a fine offensive staff around him in New Orleans, but this unit is completely his brainchild.
New Orleans QB Jameis Winston is making his third start for the franchise after an up-and-down start to his career with Tampa Bay. His best weapon is dynamic RB Alvin Kamara, who Payton will move all over the formation to find matchup advantages.
The Saints have the best offensive line in the NFL. However, that unit had uncharacteristic breakdowns in pass protection and couldn't take control of the line of scrimmage in last weeks loss to Carolina. New Orleans also has deficiencies at wide receiver, especially without All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas.
Belichick's defense will design their game plan around containing Kamara and pressuring Winston, who has been prone to mistakes throughout his career. The Patriots have been susceptible to the run this season. Outside of CB J.C. Jackson, they also don't have any defensive backs that are standouts in man coverage.
There will be several key matchups between the Saints defense and the New England offense that will also determine the game’s outcome. Rookie QB Mac Jones leads a controlled attack predicated on running the ball and safe passes to his backs and tight ends.
New Orleans has one of the best defenses in the league. They are also getting several players back that missed last week with injuries. The Saints have a suffocating run defense. They can heavily pressure the quarterback while providing aggressive coverage in the secondary.
New Orleans, especially LB Zack Baun, had issues with the Panthers backs and tight ends in coverage last week. Look for the Saints to use a cornerback and S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on New England's talented duo of tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Demario Davis and rookie LB Pete Werner will probably shadow Patriots RB James White, their leading receiver, out of the backfield.
On the other side of the ball, a battle of adjustments between New England's defensive czar and the Saints offensive mastermind will determine the pace of the game.
Payton will probably get Kamara much more involved in the passing game, where he’ll have an athletic advantage against Patriots linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
The Saints receivers will face a slightly less talented secondary than they have over the first two weeks. It’s vital that someone from this unit starts to make plays for Winston. Expect the Patriots to overload New Orleans tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead with pass rushers on the edge, then bring a free blitzer at Winston on the inside.
Look for New Orleans to try and pound the Patriots with their running game early. Success here will slow the pass rush and open up play-action opportunities. It would be shocking if the Saints offensive line doesn't rebound strongly from last week's performance.
I look for a game played close to the vest by both teams offensively, with each squad coming in with aggressive defensive game plans. That's a far contrast from just a couple years ago, when the national attention would be centered around a duel between Saints QB Drew Brees and Patriots QB Tom Brady.
Today's battle should instead be decided by the duel on the sidelines. The Saints defense must win several key battles to have a chance at a week 3 road victory. However, the ongoing chess match between Sean Payton's offense and Bill Belichick's defense will determine who wins this clash.