Patriots-Saints Scouting Report

Marching in

By Jim McBride
November 30, 2009

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Patriots at Saints
8:30 p.m. ESPN, Ch. 5 Line: Saints by 2

When the Patriots run

Laurence Maroney has been running with renewed enthusiasm the last few weeks. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder may not always pick the right lane, but he is running hard and punishing would-be tacklers. He’s at his best when he explodes through creases and attacks at the second level. Maroney can use his shiftiness to slip past linebackers and his power to steamroll defensive backs. The quick-footed and compact Kevin Faulk provides relief, but he has lost some of his elusiveness, and defenses are no longer caught off-guard when Faulk runs the ball out of the shotgun formation. New England’s offensive line, bitten repeatedly by the injury bug lately, has a chance to be intact tonight. The leader of this group is smart and technically-sound center Dan Koppen. For the Patriots to be successful running the ball, Koppen has to beat his initial block (laterally-challenged nose tackle Remi Ayodele) and get his hat or mitts on quick and agile middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. An exceptionally smart player, Vilma has good recognition skills and specializes in slipping blocks, shooting gaps, and dropping running backs. Vilma has solid running mates in strongside linebacker Scott Fujita (he has good range, speed, and instincts) and weakside backer Scott Shanle (an aggressive player with good quickness and pop).
Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

Tom Brady has thrown for more than 300 yards in five straight games, and all signs point to this streak being extended tonight. Brady, who possesses picture-perfect mechanics, unbelievable vision, and incredible calmness, won’t be rattled by the loud and crazy environment that is the Superdome. He simply takes his snaps, scans the field quickly, and delivers on-target, tight spirals to the open man. Most often that open man is the incomparable Wes Welker. It’s no secret Welker will be the intended target at least 15 times, and it’s a safe bet he’ll be in double digits in the receptions category. The presence of Randy Moss and the emergence of Julian Edelman have prevented teams from doubling or pressing Welker. Moss has an exceptional package of size and athleticism. He can line up outside, in the slot, or in motion. Edelman also lines up everywhere and has shown a willingness to go over the middle. He has quick feet, strong hands, and the kind of instincts you expect from a guy that has played quarterback. Safety Darren Sharper is the leader of the Saints’ banged-up secondary. Sharper has excellent pre-snap recognition skills. Tracy Porter (big and quick), Jabari Greer (solid in coverage), Randall Gay (quick and instinctive), and Chris McAlister (rusty) are in the mix at corner.
Edge: Patriots

When the Saints run

New Orleans has an excellent trio of tailbacks in Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush. Thomas has decent size (5-11, 215 pounds), excellent vision, and an explosive first step. Thomas is a decisive, straight-ahead runner who relies more on power than speed. He has the strength to break tackles. Bell (6 feet, 225 pounds) has great size and speed, but injuries have turned him into a tentative, indecisive runner. He will wait for his blocks to develop, but frequently picks the wrong lanes and ends up running into his offensive linemen. Bush is the wild card. A threat to score from anywhere on the field, Bush has explosive speed, exceptional quickness, and excellent vision. He has yet to prove he can be a feature back, however, as he is fragile. The Patriots have been pretty solid against the run and it all starts with the beef up front. Vince Wilfork plays with great leverage and is tough to move. The 6-2, 325-pound monster has excellent quickness and agility (don’t let the potbelly fool you). He moves well laterally and will fire through gaps and disrupt plays in the backfield. Ty Warren (6-5, 300 pounds) is a beast against the run. He has exceptional power and rarely loses one-on-one matches. He has the strength to occupy - and dominate - multiple blockers. Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo has awesome instincts and power.
Edge: Saints

When the Saints pass

Drew Brees is the triggerman for one of the NFL’s most exciting and versatile vertical attacks. A deadly-accurate passer with a deft touch, Brees has an impressive stable of receivers and uses them all. The best of the bunch is wideout Marques Colston. Blessed with the size of a tight end (6-4, 225 pounds) and the speed of a track star, Colston is a nightmare matchup for defensive backs. He tracks the ball well, has reliable hands, and is a master at getting his feet down inbounds along the sideline. Devery Henderson has good burst off the snap and elite downfield speed. Robert Meachem has all the physical tools - the 6-2, 210-pounder has good speed and hands - but will get lazy and run poor routes. Reggie Bush is the wild card. He has great hands and does his best work in the open field, where his tremendous vision and quickness allow him to rip off big chunks of yards. Jeremy Shockey, a highly emotional and competitive player, mans the tight end spot and possesses all the requisite skills. He’s big, quick, fast, and thrives on contact. Backup tight end David Thomas has good hands but isn’t much of a blocker. The New England secondary has good cover men (Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite) and big hitters (Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, and Patrick Chung).
Edge: Saints

Saints' key player

Drew Brees
A fiery competitor with nerves of steel, the 6-foot, 209-pounder with the rifle arm has excellent recognition skills and is adept at audibling out of bad matchups and exploiting favorable ones.
How he beats you: By making all the throws. Brees has a strong and accurate arm. He has a quick release, can throw the deep ball on target, and has a deft touch on screens.
How to shut him down: With pressure and disguises. Brees's accuracy suffers when he's flushed from the pocket, so getting him on the run is important.

Saints' keys to victory

1. Meet the press: One of the defensive backs (safety Darren Sharper, perhaps?) has to mark Wes Welker and mug him at the line to prevent him from getting clean breaks off the line.
2. Squeeze play: Talented ends Will Smith and Charles Grant must collapse the pocket and prevent Tom Brady from tearing apart this injury-plagued secondary.
3. Reggie full effect: Getting the ball in Reggie Bush's hands is imperative. The multitalented back can have an impact in the run game, the pass game, and special teams.

Patriots' keys to victory

1. Max protect: The Saints aren't shy about blitzing. Brady has to make the correct presnap calls so the offensive line knows who they are responsible for blocking.
2. Short stories: Slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman have to work underneath, forcing the safeties to cheat up, which can set up the deep ball to Randy Moss.
3. Hole punchers: Muscle men Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork have to occupy blockers and clog the running lanes, allowing the linebackers room to seek and destroy the tailbacks.


Saints 35, Patriots 34

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