COMMENTARY | In order to rebound following a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots will have to outplay Drew Brees and the undefeated New Orleans Saints on Sunday. After a fairly easy start to the season, New England's schedule has gotten noticeably tougher in recent weeks.
To increase their lead in the AFC East and move to 5-1, here are five players who will need to perform against the Saints.
There is finally hope that Gronk will get back on the field this week, although there are conflicting reports regarding his health. The team has desperately needed his services, and fantasy owners have been patiently waiting to insert him into the starting lineup.
The New Orleans defense has been much better so far under Rob Ryan, as this is no longer the terrible defensive unit that gives up touchdowns at will. Tom Brady and company will have to be firing on all cylinders to outscore the Saints, and this means getting Gronk back into the fold. He's a big weapon, literally and figuratively, when it comes to controlling the middle of the field. Additionally, when the Patriots get into the red zone, they'll need to convert with touchdowns, not field goals. Gronk tends to come in handy with this.
Drew Brees has plenty of weapons at his disposal to control the middle of the field. Jimmy Graham is arguably the league's best tight end, and he has a wide variety of running backs who are quality receivers out of the backfield.
Brandon Spikes will be one of the primary defensive players responsible for limiting players like Graham and Darren Sproles, in both the running and passing game. For Spikes, it's a tough matchup for sure.
Look for Spikes to accumulate plenty of tackles as he should be right in the middle of plenty of action.
Quarterbacks like Drew Brees will destroy a defense if they're given a little bit of time. The Patriots will have to generate a consistent pass rush to keep Brees out of a comfort zone if they want to win.
After having eight sacks and five forced fumbles last season, Rob Ninkovich has accumulated just one sack and one forced fumble in five games this year. He'll need to make some plays in the backfield to get the New Orleans offense off the field, particularly on third down. If Ninkovich isn't producing, the New Orleans offensive line will be able to load up against Chandler Jones.
This week will be a great test for New England. The Saints look like a totally different team compared to last season, and they appear to be as good as ever. Maybe this will be the week for the New England offense to get back on track.
Mark lives in the Boston area and has been covering New England sports for various blogs over the past 4 years. He has been featured on Fox Sports Yardbarker, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated "Hot Clicks", and has been published on Celtics 24/7, Bleacher Report, and Sports-Kings.
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