After a tough outing against the Panthers, the Saints (1-1) meet the Patriots (1-1) in Foxborough for one of the early kickoffs in Week 3. Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are the two longest tenured head coaches in the NFL, and they'll match wits for the fourth time since Payton has been with New Orleans. Most everyone can remember the 2009 prime time matchup, but New England settled the score in 2013 and put an exclamation point on things in 2017.
Both clubs could certainly use a win, as the Saints are looking to show that last Sunday was a blip, and the Patriots are looking to build off their momentum from beating down the Jets. Here's a look at some areas we're going to put a little more emphasis on going into the game.
What to Watch For
Under Pressure. Jameis Winston and the Saints faced some heavy pressure from the Panthers from the jump. Needless to say, it wasn't handled well. However, there's reason to be optimistic about this not happening again. For starters, Winston expressed his need to be more communicative and vocal. Terron Armstead also talked about this being a big point for the offensive line, especially dealing with the silent count. They're going to face an even more hostile environment at Gillette Stadium, so this has to get fixed.
No one on the team is making excuses for what happened in Charlotte, and quite frankly the players have echoed this and have only reiterated that no one feels sorry for their situation. However, not having all of their coaches and down some key starters didn't help. Let's just say you are trying to make a complex recipe work and you're missing all of those ingredients. Most all of the time, the substitutes might get you by, but it can't make up for what you don't have and how the dish was supposed to be.
Flawless Execution? Sean Payton threw out a crazy 'stat of the week' in his press conference on Wednesday, saying that the Patriots are 108-7 at home under Bill Belichick when they win the turnover battle. For starters, it's crazy to think they've won that many games there. You know that when you face off against New England that you're going to be tested in quite a lot of ways.
Payton said, "They run the ball very effectively. They're going to do a good job of mixing play action, hard sell of play action, second level throws that can challenge your interior hook defenders, guys that have a conflict on a play run or pass. They can get the ball down the field. They'll give you some personnel groupings that are conventional, yet when they break the huddle they aren't necessarily in conventional formations. So it forces you to sort through who your assignments are in man, probably a little bit more stressful than those man situations or how you're going to deploy in zone. I think when you look at team and watch them not just in a two-game study, last year, the years prior, you have to battle all three elements. They're one of the best special teams units in the league, statistically, they're extremely athletic."
They don't have to be perfect, but New Orleans will have to play a complete game here on the road, and it won't be an easy ask.
Focusing on Mac Jones. Through two games, Jones may only have one touchdown pass from the season opener, but he has really been efficient. He's been winning in the short and intermediate areas of the field, and has completed nearly 74 percent of his passes. The Jets got to him three times last week, while the Dolphins only sacked him once. This will be a huge area of emphasis for the Saints pass rush.
On Jones, Payton had this to say, "I think positive, really positive. He was someone that we were really high on. I think he processes information fast. At Alabama if you watch closely his tape, the ball comes out, decisions are made fast. I think he sees the field horizontally as well as vertically well. He has the arm to make the throws that you want. His decision-making and processing are where I felt were really strong suits with him and I think he's handling it well. It's not easy to all of a sudden come in and start Week 1 as a rookie, but he's a smart player."
Dennis Allen and company will have their work cut out for them when scheming against Josh McDaniels, and while the deep ball hasn't really happened much for New England yet, the Saints will have to respect the threat. Jones has favored going with safer and shorter options in the passing game, which is something Sam Darnold used to his advantage in Week 2. Whether it's Zack Baun or potentially Pete Werner, that's an area of the field the Patriots could target more when on offense.
An Offensive Rebound. 128 total yards of offense is never good for a professional football team, no matter the circumstances. Nothing worked against the Panthers, and it's hard to see this happen a second week. If it does however, then there's way more issues to be worried about. Alvin Kamara was held in check, Adam Trautman and Marquez Callaway were among the many non-factors, and both quarterbacks (Winston and Taysom Hill) were your leading rushers.
The Patriots have a strong defense, and they tackle well. Look for Payton to get creative, and assuming the pressure issues are mitigated, the Saints should have a better time moving the football.
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