The 1-1 New Orleans Saints travel to take on the 1-1 New England Patriots this Sunday. New Orleans has had one of the league's better defenses over the last few years and early indications are that 2021 will be the same.
The Saints throttled a highly touted Green Bay offense in week 1, holding them to three points and forcing three turnovers. They got off to a poor start, like the entire team, in a 26-7 loss at Carolina last week.
New Orleans faces a Patriots team that owns the 22nd ranked offense after two games. New England is breaking in a rookie quarterback, first-round draft choice Mac Jones, along with several new starters on offense.
The Patriots have a conservative attack based on balance and ball control. They have converted 50% of their 3rd downs, have turned the ball over just twice, and have protected their rookie signal caller by running the ball.
The Saints have been one of the NFL's toughest teams to run on over the last four seasons. Carolina had some rushing success against them in the first half to take control of the game, even though the Saints clamped down in the second half.
New Orleans must prevent the Patriots that same kind of balance to put the pressure on inexperienced QB Mac Jones.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE VS. PATRIOTS RUSHING ATTACK
New Orleans Rush Defense
The Saints come into this game having allowed a total of 132 rushing yards in two outings, third best in the league. Opponents have managed just 2.8 yards per rush, second best in the NFL.
New Orleans has held 38 of their last 55 opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
The Saints dominate opposing teams with a deep and athletic front seven, starting with an underrated crew of defensive tackles.
Star DT David Onyemata remains suspended, but tackles Shy Tuttle, Christian Ringo, and Malcolm Roach stalemate offensive linemen at the point of attack.
The ability of the interior line to get push in the middle allows their ends to crash inside and the linebackers an open path to the ball carrier. Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan is one of the league's best run defenders at his position.
Fellow DE Marcus Davenport is on injured reserve for at least the next three games, but rookie first-round choice Payton Turner had a strong debut after being caught out of position on a few first half plays against the Panthers.
Carl Granderson and DE/DT Tanoh Kpassagnon provide outstanding depth along the edge. All of the ends have the size and strength to shift inside, giving the defense excellent versatility up front.
All-Pro Demario Davis is among the league's best linebackers and an elite run defender. He has the instincts to fire into opposing backfields and the athleticism to track down plays from sideline-to-sideline.
Second-year LB Zack Baun struggled in pass coverage last week, but is blossoming into a terrific run defender. Rookie second-round pick LB Pete Werner will see his first game action after missing both preseason games and the first two weeks with injury. Kaden Elliss and Andrew Dowell provide depth.
The Saints defensive backs are as active as any secondary in the league against the run. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, veteran S Malcolm Jenkins, and P.J. Williams are highly disruptive around the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby, and rookie Paulson Adebo are each solid tacklers in the open field.
New England Rushing Offense
The Patriots have 226 rushing yards over the first two games and are averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. Third-year RB Damien Harris has 39 of the team’s 54 carries. He leads the team with 162 yards after a team-high 691 yards in ten games last year.
Harris is a sleek runner who hits the hole decisively and gets to the second level quickly. He’s spelled by veteran RB James White, who is more of a threat in the passing game. White has 32 rushing yards on nine carries and has rushed for over 300 yards in a season just once over his previous seven years.
New England prefers to attack defenses with two tight end alignments. Free-agent acquisitions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are terrific receivers, but also underrated in-line blockers. The Patriots don't have any household names along the offensive line, but their front five is capable of mauling opposing defenders.
Former first-round pick LT Isaiah Wynn has elite abilities, but has struggled with injuries over his first three years. The Patriots brought back RT Trent Brown in a trade this offseason. Brown is a mammoth presence that engulfs opposing defenders as a run blocker.
Center David Andrews is an offensive captain and one of the league's better technicians at the position. Guards Shaq Mason and up-and-coming star Michael Onwenu help Andrews get a strong interior push for Harris and the running game.
What to Watch
Now in their second year without QB Tom Brady, the Patriots want to control the ball on the ground to protect rookie Mac Jones as he develops. Harris looks like a potential star, while James White extends that ball control philosophy as a receiver out of the backfield on screens.
The Saints are one of the league's toughest teams to run the ball against. They struggled in the first half against the Panthers last week along the line of scrimmage, but strengthened in the second half.
If New Orleans can shut down the Patriots rushing attack, it puts the onus on Mac Jones to beat them with a passing game that has had difficulties down the field early in the year.
READ MORE SAINTS NEWS:
- Saints Run Defense vs. Patriots Rushing Attack
- Week 3: Saints Final Injury Report
- Saints Passing Attack vs. Patriots Pass Defense
- Week 3: Saints Thursday Injury Report
- Saints Rushing Attack vs. Patriots Run Defense
- First Look: Saints vs. Patriots