If the game between the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots was a Super Bowl preview, sign me up for the rematch. After a last-second 30-27 triumph by a zombie-like Patriots squad, I'm hoping my preseason prediction of the two teams meeting in the big one comes to fruition.
New England was by far the Saints' staunchest competition, for no other reason than it's the league's most balanced team. The Patriots do a great job of dictating game flow by staying committed to a physical brand of football—despite having one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
The Saints offense was virtually nonexistent in the first half but came to life in the second half behind a pretty efficient run game—which totally changed the complexion of the game.
The defense played solid overall but had some tendency breakers that ultimately cost them.
Despite the loss, the Saints are sitting as petty as it gets and will ultimately get right back to their winning ways after their bye week.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
It's been stated that a great defense always travels well.
The Saints have seemingly taken multiple defenses no matter where they've traveled. We've seen ferocious man-to-man, deceptive blitzes and now pure zone concepts.
To combat New England's no-huddle offensive attack, the Saints often went to a pure Cover 3 zone. After the Patriots put that concept to bed, the Saints brought the house on a myriad of blitzes. Blitzing Brady is not the best way to defeat him; you need for your defense to get home organically.
The Patriots eventually started combating those blitzes with quick hitters, in addition to picking up the blitzes. You can only fool Brady for so long.
The Saints then switched back to more zone concepts, in what was a beautiful cat-and-mouse game between two great teams.
But when you collect five sacks, while forcing Brady into a lowly 74.7 passer rating, you have effectively done your job...until the very end.
When people say New Orleans doesn't need a run game to be successful, they are thinking in a short-sighted manner. All kinds of variables may render the pass game ineffective (to a certain extent), to the point that it may be imperative to run the ball...well, Sunday was one of those days.
If anyone knows anything about a Bill Belichick-led defense, they know he does a great job scheming against the opposition's most prominent threat. The Patriots put corner Aqib Talib (before injury) on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and forced a witness protection-style disappearance from the reigning offensive player of the month.
I've said it before, and I will continue to harp on it: What will truly define New Orleans' season is its ability to switch its pitch. When the fastball isn't working, can a curveball be implemented at an equally efficient level?
The Saints showed they had another pitch in their normally one-dimensional arsenal.
The Saints came out in the third quarter and looked like they were actually the San Francisco 49ers with how physical they were in the run game. The Patriots were punched in the mouth, and the shock reverberated throughout the entire stadium. You could almost hear a pin drop when the saints tied the game up at 17.
This was the first time you could say the run game was more efficient than the pass game, just wait until both are in harmony...
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is a bad man...except when Patriots corner Aqib Talib puts him in the witness protection program.
In what may be one of the best individual performances I've ever seen, Talib—a true No. 1 corner—shadowed Graham wherever he went. He was on him so tough; I believed he may have accidentally followed Graham to the Saints' locker room!
Coming into the game, Graham was undoubtedly the hottest player in the league after becoming the first tight end to win player of the month in a few decades.
Afterward, Graham was placed on a milk carton. Graham failed to chart in the stats category despite receiving six targets. To compound matters, Graham looked to suffer a significant injury to his ankle.
This battle was tough on both ends, as Talib left the game early due to an injury (hip) of his own.
In the game preview, I pointed out how the Patriots have one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. I also stated that this line struggles to protect the quarterback. I expected a feast of Brady...and that's exactly what happened.
Brady was thrown off his spot pretty much most of the game, mostly due to scheme. Inside linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber (half sack) all hand their hands in on a sack, while safety Malcolm Jenkins (1.5 sacks) continues to terrorize quarterbacks on a weekly basis.
Defensive ends Tom Johnson and Cameron Jordan chipped in with a sack each as well. This type of output will pay dividends in the long run, as no QB can work magic from their back.
Pressure normally masks deficiencies as the corners don't have to cover as long. A deficiency that's as vivid as ever in regard to corner Jabari Greer.
Expect more of it following the bye week.
When an opposing team has a suspect unit, championship teams usually takes full advantage of its inferiority. The Patriots defensive line is full of average players at best—which was exactly what the doctor ordered for a struggling Saints offensive line.
The line was a mixed bag as Brees was hit and hurried countless times but only sacked once. Keeping him upright is the name of the game, as this team will only go as far as he takes it.
This offensive line continues to be the Achilles' heel of a great Saints squad. Heading into the bye week, now would be the perfect time to implement changes moving forward, whether it be within the scheme or with the team.
Something has to change before the Saints get into the meat of their schedule.
The ability to close out teams, when you have them on ropes, is what championship teams are made of.
You can never get complacent in the NFL (or life), as every team is full of professionals who want to win as bad as you do. When Keenan Lewis intercepted an errant Brady pass, you could plainly see that everyone involved with the Saints (including yours truly) began to relax.
Only problem was there way too much time on the clock to think the game was in the books.
When you're facing a three-time Super Bowl champion, that has all its timeouts (I believe?!), you have to continue to execute accordingly.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan became a bit conservative, after head coach Sean Payton also clammed up, and it bit both of them in their behinds.
Corners Lewis and Greer each contributed with mental mistakes that led to the Saints' undoing.
When you begin to relax as a team, mistakes will ultimately pile up. This loss may end up being a great thing for the Saints as it shows the game is never over until it's over.
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