By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots offense was completely stymied on Sunday in Cincinnati as the Bengals defense kept Tom Brady & Co. out of the end zone in a 13-6 win. The loss dropped the Pats to 4-1 a game ahead of the Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East.
The struggles of the offense overshadowed another strong defensive effort by the Patriots. Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo all played strong games for New England in the road loss.
The New Orleans Saints are off to a torrid 5-0 start; they were on the road last Sunday in Chicago and beat the Bears 26-18. Sean Payton has returned from his year-long suspension and the Saints have picked up their game seamlessly.
The Saints 7-9 struggles of a year ago are already a distant memory as the team has erased the struggles of “BountyGate” from a year ago and brought back their head coach, hired a new defensive coordinator and have gotten back on the winning track.
Let’s take a look at 5 First Impressions of the Saints:
Brees Remains At the Top Of His Game:QB Drew Brees is off to a great start in 2013. Utilizing a bevy of offensive weapons, he can spread the ball around at will and has the offense humming along.
Brees has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 1722 yards with 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for a QB rating of 107.4, re-uniting himself with Payton has made an already very good offense even better.
Brees who has had great success against the Patriots in the past, will provide a very tough matchup for the revamped Patriots defense this week.
Rob Ryan’s Defense Is Playing Well: In 2012, the Saints defense set the record for futility giving up a record 7042 yards in what was a nightmare of a season. But the team sent Steve Spagnuolo packing and brought in former Patriots assistant and Cowboys coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan has installed an attacking style of 3-4 defense and the changes have been phenomenal. The Saints defense has gone from laughingstock to the 11th ranked defense in yards allowed and currently number four in points allowed with 14.6 per game.
Ryan was questioned on whether he had the personnel to switch to a 3-4 defense but has the players not only buying in but excelling in his system. The Saints defense is playing great football because he can switch things up on a moment’s notice and change depending upon the matchups.
On Sunday, they blitzed Jay Cutler much more than they have all season and it was a large part in their victory. Sunday’s matchup should be a fun one to watch.
Jimmy Graham Having A Monster Season: Graham the basketball player turned tight end is putting up ridiculous numbers in the Saints passing game as he’s been just about impossible to cover.
Brees has utilized him in the short passing game, across the middle, down the seam and outside the numbers. They’ve pretty much been able to do what they want as Graham has had four 100 yard receiving games in a row.
For the season Graham has 37 receptions, good for 593 yards and six touchdowns. At this pace he would finish with nearly 120 catches, 1800 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’ll be a very tough matchup for the Patriots defense. Linebackers can’t stay with him and safeties aren’t big enough to physically challenge him.
Payton Hasn’t Missed A Beat: If anyone thought a year layoff would affect the sharpness of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, they’ve been sorely mistaken. Payton spent his time last season studying his team and coming up with ways to make them better.
He supposed filled up notebooks full of material on improving every facet of their game and has worked hard to make his team better. From defensive changes to tweaking the running game and overall conditioning, Payton used his time wisely last season.
The Saints are also playing excellent situational football, something Bill Belichick has long touted here in Foxboro. A great example of that was in Chicago last week, Payton recognizing the awful turf of Soldier Field was torn up, slowed the pace down and methodically changed the offense to match his conditions and the Saints controlled the clock and the game.
Rookie? Vaccaro Isn’t Playing Like One: Prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, many of those who follow the draft process closely were very high on safety Kenny Vaccaro from Texas, whom New Orleans took with the 15th pick in the first round. And so far those assessments were right on the money.
Vaccaro is not playing like a rookie on the field for the Saints lining up all over the field as Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan is utilizing his new rookie a little bit like the way Pittsburgh uses Troy Polamalu.
Vaccaro has lined up in the box, as a deep safety, as the slot corner even some plays lining up as a linebacker both inside and outside in sub-packages. Ryan said in an interview with NFL Live that he’s put more on Vaccaro’s plate than any rookie he’s ever had in his time in the NFL.