Last week, the New England Patriots (4-1) fell for the first time this season as the offense once again took two steps back. For the first time in 52 games, Tom Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass in a 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. New England's defense played well in the absence of Vince Wilfork, and now will be without Tommy Kellyafter Kelly left the game with a right knee injury. The injury everyone wants to talk about is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has yet to play in a game this season and with Dr. Andrews still not clearing him to play as of morning, it is unlikely that Brady will have one of his favorite targets on the field again against a very good New Orleans Saints' (5-0) team ( , FOX).
After the Saints went thru a year of turmoil in 2012, the 2013 Saints are running away with the NFC South before Week 6 even started. With Sean Payton back as the head coach, the Saints are a top ten team in both points and yards per game. That is not a surprise when you have weapons to throw the ball too in Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham (593 yards, 6 touchdowns). However, its the defense now led by Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator that has made the complete turnaround. After being dead last in total defense last year, New Orleans is fourth in the league in points per game allowed, giving up barely under 15 points and surrendering no more than 18 in a game this season.
With that being said, here are my three keys to this game in Foxboro:
Springing The Sproles: The Saints have not been known for their running backs. The reason for that is their best running back may be the player that catches the best out of the backfield. Darren Sproles is going to be a tough assignment for Patriots' defenders to tackle in space. Against the Dolphins in Week 4, Sproles had seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. If the Patriots are going to contain the Saints' offense, they will need to prevent big plays whenever the Saints try to attempt screen passes and look for vital yards after the catch. Plus, with Matthew Slater still out on special teams, Sproles can play a big factor in giving Drew Brees and the offense good field position.
Crossing The Jordan: Over the years, Rob Ryan defenses have been able to frustrate Tom Brady with pressure. Brady is 2-1 against Ryan in his career, but his last game against the Cowboys in 2011 led to two interceptions and a struggle to put 20 points on the board. One of the players that may be able to get into the Patriots' backfield is Cameron Jordan. Jordan has four of the Saints' 15 sacks on the season and will be able to make Brady force some throws on his right side. Also, fourth year linebacker Junior Galette will look to get some pass rushes on Brady as he also has three sacks so far this season.
An Effective Running Riddle: After the Patriots' lack of production on offense last week, it was evident that this team is going to need balance in order for Josh McDaniels' offense to be effective. Ridley missed the Bengals' game with a knee injury and without Shane Vereen as well, the Pats had no running offense. It hurt their play action and with 17 passes on first downs, it was easy for Cincy to put pressure on the quarterback. Even if Gronkowski plays, the Patriots need balance to keep Drew Brees on the sideline as well as establish the play-action pass down the middle of the field. With the potential of Gronk and Danny Amendola establishing the middle, look for Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson to get some favorable matchups downfield.
With the weather being a cool October night, this game looks a lot easier for the Saints offense in the outdoors than it would be in December. I expect the Patriots' defense to continue to have success considering they have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed so far this season. I don't expect Gronk to play this week and even if he did, I don't think the Patriots can win an offensive shootout at this point in the season. Rob Ryan will be able to frustrate Tom Brady in this game and Drew Brees will make one more play to win this game on the road.
SAINTS 27 PATRIOTS 20