By: Steve Balestrieri
This week’s New Orleans player to watch in the Patriots and Saints Sunday football matchup is Kenny Vaccaro, rookie safety from Texas.
In our Razor’s Edge piece from Thursday, we looked to Aqib Talib for the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots to go 5-1 this week. And normally we’d highlight an offensive player from a Patriots perspective for the team to win. But this week, the rookie safety gets an extra look as he’s an intriguing player to watch.
Vaccaro has been used at every position in the Saints secondary, slot corner, deep safety, in-the-box and even as an outside linebacker in sub-packages, not unlike the “Money” position in the Patriots defense.
Rob Ryan has never put so much on one rookie player’s plate but not only has he done well, he’s being given more each week. The Saints are using Vaccaro in much the same way that the Steelers use Troy Polamalu. While not quite as athletic as Polamalu, Ryan is moving him all over the field and he’ll be a big part of the Saints game plan to beat the Patriots.
Vaccaro is a rookie that doesn’t quite play like a first-year player, said safety Malcolm Jenkins. “He’s very very calm, doesn’t panic and just goes out and plays,” Jenkins said. “That’s good to have a rookie out there that knows what he’s doing.”
Vaccaro is very aggressive and sometimes being a rookie, that aggressiveness can be used against him, especially by savvy veteran QBs such as the Patriots Tom Brady, but Rob Ryan has faith in his young player’s ability as he’s played in every defensive snap this season.
And Vaccaro is excited about his opportunity to play against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski this weekend, if he plays on Sunday.
With all the hoopla surrounding Gronkowski’s status reaching hysteria around New England, the Saints are going about their business as if the Gronk will play even so far as having a player wear the number 87 and move him around like New England does. And Vaccaro for one is stoked about the challenge.
“Oh yeah, and I can’t wait,” Vaccaro said. “He’s one of the best tight ends in the league, and that’s one of my favorite things to do … to just match up and play against the best.”
The Saints defense went from a 4-3 unit that allowed the most yards in NFL history in 2012 to a much improved 3-4 unit under Ryan which, even missing many of its players in the front seven to be the #4 unit in points allowed in the NFL.
While the Saints defense is far from perfect, (Ryan would be the first to say that), they have his fingerprints all over it. Self-confident, swagger and aggressiveness are the first thoughts that come to mind.
And playing a rookie all over the field and making him a focal point in the game plan, either close to line of scrimmage, in the deep part of the field, as a linebacker rushing on a blitz has been a big part of it.
Vaccaro is a very versatile, physical player that thus far has been everything the Saints envisioned and more when they drafted him this season. While much of the focus has been (and rightfully so) on Jimmy Graham and the Saints offense, keep your eyes peeled for Vaccaro on Sunday.