Game Scout: Saints at Patriots

Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
*Keys to the game: Bend, don't break, is a defensive philosophy Drew Brees tends to snap to pieces. New Orleans admittedly ran with its machinery on safety last week at Chicago, stressing protection and ball security, and might repeat that at one of the NFL's toughest road venues. Brees, 3-0 against Bill Belichick, has connected with TE Jimmy Graham on four straight 100-plus-yard games. Moving Graham around the formation can cause defensive breakdowns and open one-on-one chances for other targets. RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas average more than five receptions per game apiece. When linebackers drop in zone coverage, the Saints turn their short passing game into a time-of-possession machine. Patriots QB Tom Brady isn't equipped to counter the Saints with touchdowns without TE Rob Gronkowski, who could make his season debut. RB LeGarrette Blount is a familiar face to the Saints. He has added between-the-tackles toughness in the New England running game. If he gets rolling again, Blount eventually will force the Saints out of their seven-man front.
*Matchup to watch - Saints Ss Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins vs. Brady: Rangy and athletic, Vaccaro and Jenkins don't always play by the book. They do close quickly and will roll the dice with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's blessing, leaving quarterbacks to second-guess the pre-snap intentions of the secondary.
*Player spotlight - RB Darren Sproles -- He can turn dump-off passes into big plays and is a matchup nightmare. The Patriots' linebackers struggled with Falcons receiving back Jacquizz Rodgers two weeks ago, and Sproles is more of a threat.
*Fast facts: Brees had 371 yards, five touchdowns and the highest possible passer rating (158.3) in the last meeting (2009). ... A victory would be Belichick's 209th as a head coach and move him past Chuck Noll into fifth place on the NFL's all-time wins list.
The Saints will mimic recent defensive plans against Tom Brady and bring bodies from all angles to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. If Brady's protection holds, the Patriots can stick with the Saints. If it buckles, Brady could look pedestrian for the third time this season and leave New England searching for solutions.
*Our pick: Saints 23-20

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