By Hal Bent
The rabbit foot, the four leaf clover, the horseshoe, and the wishbone were used up in the first four games of the season and the New England Patriots finally ran out of luck and dropped their first game of the season in Week 5 versus the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a game highlighted by offensive frustration as the Patriots were without several key weapons and several more contributors were playing noticeably dinged up. The Patriots put out an anemic offensive performance and wasted a strong defensive performance losing 13-6 to the Bengals in their second consecutive road game versus a 2012 playoff team. Now looming in Week 6 is a return to Foxborough, MA to face the rejuvenated and undefeated New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon.
Against Cincinnati, the theme was missed opportunities as dropped passes (six more by the Patriots’ backs and receivers, with newly active wide receiver Danny Amendola with three drops and running back Brandon Bolden with two drops) and poor execution on offense doomed another strong defensive performance. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was quiet in the passing game, likely due to a combination of extra attention after his play in the first quarter of the season and a nagging injury. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson had another quiet showing in the passing game as well.
The Patriots suffered primarily from a surprisingly poor performance up front by left guard Logan Mankins. Throughout the first quarter of the season, Mankins and tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder were the strong backbone that allowed the Patriots offense to motor forward with just enough production to win. Last Sunday against the Bengals, tackle Geno Atkins had a field day blowing up the middle of the offensive line and opening the floodgates to get the Patriots’ quarterback on the ground consistently and disrupt the rhythm of the passing game. With three sacks, three hits, and six hurries, the Bengals defense won the fight in the trenches.
This week, the New Orleans Saints bring a multiple-weapon offense and an improving defense to Foxborough. On offense, the Patriots matchup against the talented Drew Brees. Despite the disappointing season last year, Brees threw over 40 touchdowns and 5,200 yards. His top target is the best tight end in the NFL not named Rob Gronkowski in tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body and has continued to progress as he has six touchdowns in five games and almost 600 yards receiving. Finally, the third weapon in the arsenal is running back Darren Sproles. Sproles is a weapon like no other in the league with top-end receiving talent and off-the-chart quickness in the open field.
Unlike Cincinnati and Atlanta, where the Patriots had the defensive game plan to take away one weapon (wide receiver Julio Jones and wide receiver A.J. Green) and let the other nine defenders do the rest, that plan goes out the window this week. Just matching-up with Graham is a headache, and Sproles has to be accounted for every time he steps on the field. Even taking away both of those, Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks at simply finding whoever is open and getting the ball to him in a hurry. Top wide receiver Marques Colston is having his usual excellent season, and running back Pierre Thomas has established himself as a receiving threat as well out of the backfield.
The one weakness for New Orleans has been running the ball, and without Patriots’ defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (and Tommy Kelly’s knee injury status still unclear) the opportunity to try to get their running game going may be too strong for the Saints to resist. This year they have averaged 3.1 yards per carry with Pierre Thomas averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry. Backup (and first round pick from a trade with New England) Mark Ingram is averaging less than two yards per carry and is in danger of being passed on the depth chart by undrafted free agent Khiry Robinson.
On defense, the change in philosophy has been a huge factor in the Saints’ turnaround...Click here for more: http://cover32.com/patriots/2013/10/09/new-england-looks-to-bounce-back-at-home-vs-new-orleans/