Pats Preview: Patriots @ Saints
As the New England Patriots look to rebound off of their season opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with a Week 2 trip to New Orleans to battle the Saints, let's take a look at the match up and pregame story lines:
Need To Bounce Back- The Pats will need to bounce back, after an ugly opening night loss last Thursday. Though they raised their fifth Super Bowl banner pregame and came out strong offensively on their first couple or drives, New England looked like a shell of itself most of the night. By the time the clock struck zero, the Pats had been beaten just about as badly as they ever have in the Belichick/Brady era.
Injuries All Around- The Pats are set to enter the game with key players from each phase of the game unavailable. After not practicing all week, both wide receiver Danny Amendola (Concussion/Knee) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (Knee) will be out for the game. Both players have dealt with injuries throughout their careers, so them getting backed up isn't really a surprise, though it also isn't ideal for a team thin at both players' respective positions. Along with Amendola and Hightower, who are key players on offense and defense, the Pats will be without special teams captain Matthew Slater for the second straight week. Add in the injuries that the Pats suffered in the preseason and their is no denying that the injury bug has been feasting on the New England locker room in the early going.
Still Figuring It Out- It was evident, multiple times in the opener, that the Pats are still trying to figure out how their offense will work with top wide out Julian Edelman sidelined for the season with a torn ACL. With only three healthy wide receivers on the roster for Sunday's game, it will probably still be a work in progress for the Pats. As they continue to find a way to make up for the absence of Edelman, look out for more duel back sets with the potential to motion one back out of the backfield and into the slot.
A Likely Shootout- While the pats might still be learning how to navigate their new-look offense, this game is likely to become an old school shootout between two veteran quarterbacks. The New England defense looked atrocious last Thursday and will likely still be tough to watch this week with the loss of Hightower. Last season, the Saints gave up the second most points of any team in the league and they started off this season allowing 29 points to the Minnesota Vikings. With the defenses struggling on both sides and each team's offense being historically explosive under their respective quarterbacks, expect Tom Brady and Drew Brees to attempt to attack as much as possible and push the needle as they try to pour on the points.
Two to Watch- While it seems likely that the backs will play a larger role for the Pats on Sunday, the two guys to watch for most will be tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Gonk was, with the exception of a couple of plays, largely nonexistent as a threat in the passing game Thursday. With Both Edelman and Amendola, who are two of Brady's more reliable targets when he needs a play, out, it will likely be Gronk who is targeted if things aren't going well early. As for Cooks, he had some nice plays last week, but wasn't really fully unleashed against the Chiefs. With him suiting up against his old team for the first time since they traded him to New England this offseason, it might be a good idea to send him on some long go routes down the field. After all, the Saints secondary isn't one that should be able to contain Cooks' big play capabilities.
Prediction- The Pats did not look good in Week 1 and this game was one many believed could pose a challenge, prior to the season, but I just can't see new England starting the season in an 0-2 hole. While I think the defense will likely have its struggles for the second straight week, Tom Brady is more than capable of using what's left of the weapons around him to produce a lot of points against this suspect New Orleans defense. It might not look pretty and it might still leave a host of questions after its all said and done, especially defensively, but you'd be crazy to bet against the Pats here.
Pats 38, Saints 34