The Patriots get ready to host the 2-7 Saints in a game they should win. However, for a losing the team, the Saints have a lot of talent on their roster capable of pulling off an upset if the Pats don't show up ready to take care of business.
1. Get an early lead
The Saints have been through a lot this season to say the least. There will be no playoffs for New Orleans in 2005 so this is it. This is the Saints Super Bowl and having the bye week to rest up certainly helps. If the Patriots come out sluggish like they have in recent games, it will give the Saints hope. The Patriots want to crush that hope early and destroy any thoughts New Orleans may have of pulling an upset. The team has had a lot of bad things happen to them from the tragic hurricane to bad calls leading to tough losses. Mentally, they are walking a fine line. If the Patriots can get out to an early lead on a cold November day in Foxborough, that could be enough to break the Saints back and set the tone for the Patriots to cruise to an easy win. Something they haven't done in quite a while.
2. Pressure Aaron BrooksBrooks is the kind of player that makes coaches pull their hair out. He appears to have talent but can't put it all together. Brooks is a very streaky quarterback. When he's hot, the Saints can score on anyone but when he's cold, Brooks makes a ton of mistakes. Richard Seymour returned last week but the Patriots still went another game without touching a quarterback. They only have 13 sacks on the season and that has to change if the team wants to make a serious playoff run. If the Patriots can get to Brooks and force him into making mistakes, they should win this game going away. However, if Brooks gets comfortable in the pocket and has time to find his receivers, it could be another long afternoon for the Patriots secondary.
3. Once again, prevent the big playThis point seems to make the list every Friday but this week it really holds true because of the Saints big-play receivers. Joe Horn, Donte' Stallworth and Az Hakim are all fast receivers who can stretch the field. This is a major concern for a Patriots defense that is coming off a game where they gave up 360 yards passing to Gus Frerotte, one of the NFL's lowest rated passers. Horn has been battling a hamstring injury all year but he appears to be back at 100 percent. He and Asante Samuel will be battling all game long. The key matchup is between Stallworth and rookieEllis Hobbs. After struggling early, Hobbs played better in the second half against the Dolphins, including knocking away a pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. This week presents a different challenge for Hobbs. The Dolphins Marty Booker is a big, possession-type receiver while Stallworth is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL. The rookie got into some trouble in the preseason by being overly aggressive and biting on fakes. If he gets caught out of position against Stallworth, the speedy receiver will take it the distance. If the Patriots can prevent the quick-strike and make Brooks be patient, he's more likely to make a mistake and turn the ball over.
4. Keep the running game going
Heath Evans came off the bench to save the Patriots last week by rushing for a career-high 84 yards. No one is expecting Evans to repeat that performance this week but the Patriots as a team should be able to pound the football against a Saints defense that ranks 30th in the NFL defending the run. Corey Dillon's status still remains a question mark but Patrick Pass returned to practice and should be available this week. Against a stout run defense, the combination of Evans and Pass could have trouble finding running room but against a team that struggles to stop the run, the duo should be able to do some damage. It's getting colder in New England and the Patriots can't rely on Tom Brady to throw the ball 40 times a game. You would think this is a game where the Pats could get an early lead and then start working on their running game. You would think that but since the trip to Atlanta, the Patriots have yet to get an early lead in any game they've played, so we can't take anything for granted.
5. Continue to play with intensityOne bright note from the Miami victory was the team played with a lot more urgency and intensity than they had in previous weeks. After some of the veterans questioned whether or not everyone was playing with passion, the Patriots were flying all over the place against the Dolphins. Led by Tedy Bruschi, of course, guys were giving up their bodies and playing with more emotion. This needs to continue against the Saints. The Patriots don't have the luxury of coming out flat. This is a key game to test the makeup of this team and to see if they are starting to turn the corner. If they come out fired up and roll over a team they should beat, then they are taking a step in the right direction. If they come out lacking fire and passion and just squeak by a Saints team that got beat 52-3 in Green Bay, there are going to be a lot of nervous Patriots fans when the team heads to Kansas City next week.
Patriots/Saints connectionsSaints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi and offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard both worked on Bill Belichick's staff in Cleveland. Venturi was the Browns linebackers coach while Sheppard served as the tight ends coach…Patriots strength coach Mike Woicik spent three year with the Saints from 1997-99…Saints running back Antowain Smith played three seasons in New England and was a part of two Super Bowl teams…Patriots linebacker Don Davis played for the Saints from 1996-99.