I can’t really remember a time in recent memory that Saints fans were less excited about a Saints home opener. Such is life when you are stuck in mediocrity. The Saints are coming off three 7-9 seasons and the 2017 preseason gave fans hope that this year things would be different. It’s a familiar place for Saints fans, especially those that have followed the team long before the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era began 11 years ago. However, it was a place we thought we had escaped forever and would never go back to. The Saints crushing defeat Monday night against the Vikings now has Saints fans ready to hit the panic button. It wasn’t exactly because they lost but more about how they lost.
Week 2 doesn’t offer much reason for optimism either. The Saints will welcome the defending Super Bowl Champions to New Orleans for the 2017 home opener. With them they will bring a future first ballot hall of fame quarterback, the greatest NFL head coach ever and a wide receiver hungry to prove his old team they were wrong.
1. Brandin Cooks certainly had an impact in last weeks game. How will the Patriots try to use him in his return to New Orleans? What was the reaction when New Orleans sent the receiver to the Patriots?
Patriots fans were thrilled to get Cooks because they’ve been looking for a proverbial “deep threat” ever since Randy Moss was shipped out-of-town. This is, of course, despite the fact that Chris Hogan led the league in yards-per-reception last season. Cooks’ speed is an exciting element and Tom Brady has shown good chemistry down the field with him throughout the preseason and into last week’s opener. However, without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola the Pats are lacking their usual third-down-chains-mover so you wonder if Cooks will see more underneath routes as the season progresses. They should be trying to get the ball into his hands by any means necessary but they’ll take quite a few shots downfield to him.
2. New Orleans, with Sean Payton and Drew Brees at the helm, have produced historic offenses. They had a lackluster showing last week against the Vikings but The Chiefs were able to air it out against the Patriots secondary. How do you think the Patriots will hold up against Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense?
The Patriots defense was terrible last week, no question about it. What killed them the most were the big plays in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs’ diverse offense kept the Patriots on their heels most of the game and that paid off with explosive plays that blew a game the Patriots lead early in the fourth quarter into a Kansas City blowout. There’s really nowhere to go but up, and while I’m sure the Saints will move the ball and score some points, I expect the Patriots to be much more solid with their communication and tackling, two traditional hallmarks of their squad. I think this game will come down to turnovers.
3. The Saints defense has been one of the worst in the NFL for several years but coming out of the preseason there was a lot of hope that this unit would be drastically improved. The Vikings proved that may not be the case. How do you think Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels will try to exploit their weaknesses and who will ultimately win that battle?
Tom Brady and the offense did score 27 points in a losing effort to the Chiefs so it wasn’t like they were dead in the water like the defense was. What stood out most was that Brady was either forcing it to covered players and/or missing guys underneath who were open. I don’t think that will continue. But having seen what the Vikings did to the Saints defense I expect they’ll continue to attack downfield, which really hasn’t been their game in the last decade. The big unknown is still their stable of running backs who never really found a rhythm. Once White, Lewis, Burkhead and Gillislee get rolling they could be the true engine that makes the 2017 Patriots offense go.
4. If New England is forced to play without Danny Amendola and Dont’a Hightower, how will that effect the offense and the defense?
Amendola and Hightower were two critical players they couldn’t afford to lose and they lost them both in Week 1. I expect both will sit. Overcoming Amendola will depend on the receiving backs James White and Dion Lewis. The Pats used some two-RB sets with them both and they missed some opportunities for both of them. They just don’t have a “quick open” receiver now without Edelman, which becomes a big problem on third down. Expect Chris Hogan to grow into the role of Brady’s most trusted outlet on the “gotta have it” downs. As for Hightower, there’s already flimsy depth at linebacker. If there was one spot for the Saints to really target it would be those linebackers in coverage. The Chiefs feasted on them. Rookie Harvey Langi could see his first action helping to replace Hightower, as could Cassius Marsh, a trade acquisition from the Seahawks.
5. What are your predictions for the game and final score?
Well as a Patriots blogger I must pick the Patriots, but I believe this will be a back and forth classic with the Patriots getting the final score to win — 34-28.
I agree with a lot of what Mike said here. The Patriots absolutely must find a way to get the ball in Brandin Cooks’ hands. I mean did you see the Saints secondary last week. But just as Mike thinks the Patriots defense will be much improved I believe the Saints will be much improved. I mean, it doesn’t really get worst than that. The Saints have a decent run defense so I don’t think that the Patriots will be able to effectively run the ball forcing Tom Brady to air it out. That should not be the problem but like Mike said deep passing really hasn’t been their game since Randy Moss left town. Can Brandin Cooks catch those underneath routes on third down to move the chains? Yes. But the problem is Brandin Cooks isn’t a guy who breaks tackles for big gains. He is fast and can outrun most DBs but once he starts getting hit he usually goes down.
I would like to point on one interesting statistic. Drew Brees is the ONLY quarterback with a winning record against Tom Brady out of quarterbacks that have faced him at least 4 times. In Drew Brees’ four meetings with Tom Brady Brees is 3-1. Brees has completed 9.5 yards per attempt compared to Brady’s 6.6. Brees has thrown 10 touchdowns with only 1 interception while Brady has thrown only 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. During those 4 contest Brees has a passer rating of 123.3 while Brady’s passer rating is 73.8. It doesn’t mean much but it is definitely a fun stat. Could Payton/Brees be the Belichick/Brady kryptonite?
My Saints Prediction: Drew Brees and the offense will bounce back. Brees will pass for 360 yards and 3 touchdowns and Mark Ingram will rush for 120 and 1 touchdown.
My Patriots Prediction: Brandin Cooks has 200 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns.
Final Score: Saints- 31 Patriots- 35