Saints vs. Patriots: New England's Defense Key to Victory over New Orleans
The Saints enter the game with an undefeated record of 5-0. As has been the case since Drew Brees teamed up with Sean Payton back in 2006, New Orleans features an electric offense capable of putting up six points on any given play.
But it's New Orleans' defense that deserves special mention heading into Week 6.
New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has transformed last year's league-worst defense into one of the most impressive units in the NFL in 2013. The Saints have allowed just 14.6 points on offense per game, ranking No. 4 in the league.
On the other side, New England's offense hasn't been clicking this year.
We've seen Tom Brady work miracles in the past with a less-than-stellar receiving corps, but the challenges of this season have taken their toll.
Rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have struggled to get on the same page as Brady in the team's nuanced offense, and Rob Gronkowski has clearly been missed in the middle of the field—especially in the red zone.
As such, Brady leads the No. 21-ranked passing offense in the NFL, averaging just 227 yards per game, and he's only thrown seven touchdowns in five games.
Even more shocking was the fact that Brady failed to throw a touchdown last weekend. It was his first non-touchdown performance in 52 games, and he ended up falling just one game shy of Brees' all-time record.
Injuries to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have hampered the Patriots' ability to run the ball effectively as well. As a team, New England is averaging just 343.4 yards and 19 points per game.
Meanwhile, Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham are the hottest duo in the NFL. They've connected 33 times for 548 yards and five touchdowns the past four games, and Graham surpassed 100 yards in all four contests.
Making matters worse for opposing defenses, Darren Sproles is a matchup nightmare.
With 411 total yards and two touchdowns to his credit, he's been an effective weapon for the Saints this year as a receiver out of the backfield.
He stretches defenses horizontally, while Graham, rookie Kenny Stills and the always reliable Marques Colston stretch the field vertically. This dynamic offensive arsenal gives Brees multiple options on every passing play, and it's incredibly difficult to defend.
But if the Patriots have any shot of staving off the Saints this Sunday at Gillette Stadium, then their defense must make a statement by shutting down New Orleans' red-hot offense.
Based on the way this unit has played in the first five games of the season, this isn't a hopeless cause.
New England features the No. 2-ranked scoring defense in the league, allowing just 14 points per game to opposing offenses.
But a closer examination of the competition this team has faced suggests the team's recent history should be tossed out the window heading into this game against the Saints.
The Patriots must hold New Orleans to ____ points in order to win.
The only true test New England's defense has faced this year came in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons—a team that is suffering badly due to injuries. Matt Ryan exploded for 421 yards in that game, though he did throw a critical interception to Aqib Talib that ultimately lost the game for the Falcons.
New Orleans will present a much tougher test for Talib and his mates in the defensive secondary.
Challenges are what the NFL is all about, however, and the Patriots can knock off the undefeated Saints at home on Sunday—provided the team's defense plays its best game of the year.
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