I do believe the Saints will face their toughest opponent to date this season, on the road no less, as they take on the Patriots in Foxboro. If the Saints want to go 6-0 they are definitely going to have to earn it today. There is no question they have the talent and ability to take this one, though. But it will likely take close to a perfect game from the Saints to pull off. Here are the five things I'm looking for:
1. Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady
Normally I'm not a huge fan of singling guys out prior to a game when a roster is made up of 53 and there's 22 players on the field on any one given play. Granted matchups are always interesting to analyze, but opposing quarterbacks are never on the field at the same time. But there's something polarizing about two of the game's best going up against each other's defense. Each time one makes a play, you know the other will want to come in and one up him. Which of the two will have the better game? And will the one that performs better be the one that wins?
2. How much will Brady struggle without Gronkowski?
You might be thinking "what's the big deal, Brady hasn't had Gronk all season" coming into this game, but I think there's a bit of a mind &$%# going on with Gronkowski practicing all week. When you take numerous reps and a quarterback has the chemistry developing with a guy all week only to have him inactive on game day, it means a lot of what you practiced was somewhat worthless. I'm sure the Pats spent a lot of time getting Gronk up to speed with timing and they won't reap the benefits of that till next week at the soonest. Brady will have Amendola back, but he's still not 100%. The lack of playmaking has been a struggle for Brady this season.
3. Does the Saints' offensive line continue to improve?
The Bears game was awesome, by any means, but I did feel like it was an improvement. Brees had more time, the protection was decent and Saints backs saw a little bit more daylight in the running game. At this point I'm resigned to this offensive line never being amazing, but if they can continue to make baby steps in improving each week that will work for me. I'm looking for more positive signs from them. Zach Strief is questionable, though, so Bryce Harris starting at RT could be a blow. Worth watching.
4. Can the Saints attack the Patriots' depleted interior?
With Vince Wilfork recently out for the year and Tommy Kelly out too, the Pats' interior is decimated. Any team with a stellar running game would be able to completely expose the Patriots. With the Saints I'm not so sure given their 3.1 yards per carry through 5 games. Will Ingram play? If so, and if he's healthy, this seems like the kind of game where he could break out. If, and a big if, the Saints' offensive line gives him something to work with. If Ingram can't go, will the Saints pound Khiry Robinson more? He seems like the type of back that could do well today considering the Patriots' personnel.
5. Does the streak continue?
Five straight weeks now this Saints defense hasn't allowed an opponent to score 20. But this is the mighty Patriots, in New England. As good as the defense has been, if they hold Tom Brady to under 20 I think it makes a huge statement and this defense enters a different dimension. They go from "pretty good" or "much better" to "one of the best defenses in the league". This is a statement game for them.
Enjoy the game! WHO DAT!