A film breakdown of New England's Week 2 road win in New Orleans.
…Fantastic move by RB James White on the game's opening drive, on 3rd-and-5, to separate from a pair of Saints defenders and get open for QB Tom Brady. White darted to the inside, from the far left flanker position, before planting hard and spinning back to the sideline. This gave him enough space so that Brady could hit him with the pass. White then turned upfield and easily picked up the first down to avoid a three-and-out.
…White then showed a good awareness in the backfield a few plays later when it appeared he would be stuffed for a significant loss of yards. But he read his blockers and patiently waited for an opening that allowed him to squeeze through and actually pick up a 2-yard gain. White has really emerged as a superb, reliable pass-catching back for New England, and these two plays were a great example of his abilities.
… The next third down on the opening drive saw the Saints blitz Brady (they only rushed three on the earlier one) with six players. The o-line, along with RB Rex Burkhead, did a good job of picking up the blitz. A seventh rusher had to back off when White, also in the backfield with Brady and Burkhead, raced out of the area with the intent of being a safety valve for Brady to unload the ball.
Meanwhile, the four remaining Saints were left to cover New England's other eligible receivers, including TE Rob Gronkowski. New Orleans elected to put safety Kenny Vaccaro on Gronk 1-on-1, the way the Chiefs did a week earlier with Eric Berry. Vaccaro, however, was overmatched, and Gronkowski shrugged off the defender on a deep crossing route to collect Brady's pass and pick up another first down.
…The drive ended with New England's first touchdown of the day, a beautiful lob from Brady to Burkhead. The play began with Burkhead in the shotgun backfield next to Brady. WRs Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan were to the short left of formation, with FB James Develin split wide right and Gronk tight to the o-line a step behind RT Marcus Cannon. Pre-snap, Burkhead motioned out of the backfield to the right slot and a Saints defender shadowed him, which declared New Orleans as being in man-to-man coverage.
That defender, rookie LB Alex Anzalone, was too slow to react when Burkhead put a quick out-and-up move on him. Burkhead had Anzalone beaten by a couple of steps when Brady floated the ball over the rookie's head. Burkhead made a nice, almost fingertip catch in the middle of the end zone to complete the scoring play.
Once again, the Saints decided to blitz Brady with five rushers, and two of them nearly got to Brady before he unloaded the football. But by that point, Burkhead was running free and Brady was able to find him.
This was a good job by OC Josh McDaniels of finding a way to replace slot receivers Julian Edelman (out for the season) and Danny Amendola (inactive with a concussion), at least temporarily, with Burkhead, while at the same time abusing a rookie defender.
…CB Stephon Gilmore appeared to have another miscommunication with a teammate, as he did in Week 1 on a 75-yard Chiefs touchdown, when he and fellow CB Eric Rowe covered the same Saints receiver. That left another Saints receiver wide open for a 16-yard gain to move the chains for New Orleans. Wasn't nearly as disastrous a result as last week, but another example of the new player on defense working out some kinks in the early going of the season. Looked like Gilmore should have taken the open player, but it's difficult to say with 100-percent certainty.
…New England didn't blitz at all on the Saints' opening possession, but did a fantastic job of stuffing the few running plays New Orleans called. When the Saints were in an obvious passing situation on 3rd-and-7 from the NE 28, the Patriot's 4-man rush got some heat on Brees while the back seven clogged up his passing lanes. Brees threw the ball away and New Orleans had to settle for a field goal.
…LT Nate Solder struggled early, particularly against Saints DE Cam Jordan. While Jordan didn't manage to sack Brady, he came close on a few 1st quarter occasions.
…Brady's second touchdown was one of those times that Jordan nearly got to Brady. Instead, the QB took advantage of rookie Anzalone yet again. Gronk was in the slot left this time, beside WR Phillip Dorsett. Cooks was wide right with Hogan in the slot, but Hogan motioned to the left to expose the Saints in a man coverage look. White was in the backfield to Brady's right.
At the snap. Gronk ran a slant. Brady was nearly taken down by a pincer rush from the right and left, but Solder and Cannon managed to keep their guys just barely off him. However, Brady was getting pressured up the middle, too, as LG Joe Thuney was being driven backward into him. Brady spotted Gronk alone with Anzalone on the right side and nothing but green turf ahead of him because Cooks, running a deep in pattern, drew his man, plus a safety.
Off his back foot, Brady delivered another brilliant strike over the head of Anzalone, and Gronk recognized the danger his QB was in, so, he adjusted his route to turn up-field. Anzalone made the mistake of looking too much into the backfield at Brady and took his eyes off Gronk for just a moment. It was enough for Gronk to speed by him, haul in the pass, avoid another defender, and out-race two other Saints to the end zone.
…Brady-to-Gronk beat another Saints blitz on 3rd down on the third drive to keep the eventual scoring possession alive. Nice job by the line to protect Brady from the blitz. Vaccaro again manning solo on Gronkowski proved ill-equipped to handle the job, despite relatively good, tight coverage.
…There's a rule in the NFL that you can't make contact by setting a pick on an opponent – like in basketball – on a pass play… unless you do so within a yard of the line of scrimmage. McDaniels obviously understands this rule and called for it on Brady's third TD, on the third series.
Cooks and Hogan were in the slot left, with Dorsett the flanker to that side in a trips left formation. At the snap, Cooks, in the middle of the trio, darted diagonally to his right, while Hogan intentionally stutter-stepped at the line of scrimmage to keep his defender tight to the line. Cooks' defender was a few yards off the line, and when Cooks bumped Hogan's defender, Hogan raced to the left, catching Cooks' former defender flat-footed.
Dorsett, meanwhile, ran a post to draw his defender away from the area beyond the numbers, giving Hogan a clear path to the end zone. Brady lofted an easy pass to Hogan for the score.
The officiating crew threw a flag, but had to pick it up when they discussed the construction of the play (with Brady barking in their ears that this was within the rules).
…The Saints ran a similar pick play on their first touchdown, although it was further downfield than New England's was. TE Josh Hill was matched up in the same area with safety Patrick Chung. Hill was to the far left, and WR Brandon Coleman was the slot man matched up with CB Malcolm Butler. Coleman took a few steps up-field, which forced Butler to backpedal. Meanwhile, Hill ran a shallow post to get in front of Coleman. Once he did, Coleman cut behind his teammate, and while Hill didn't make intentional contact like Cooks had earlier, Butler got caught up in the traffic and couldn't keep up with Coleman. Brees made the precise throw to his open target for the score.
Coincidentally, this was the first time in the game that New England chose to blitz Brees (with five rushers), and New Orleans had the right play called to beat it.
…Brady's first sack of the game came off a Saints blitz, but that wasn't the real reason for the takedown. New Orleans sent six players at Brady, five of whom were well handled by five Patriots: Thuney, center David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, Cannon, and White. That left LB Hau'oli Kikaha alone with Solder. Kikaha simply ran past Solder, who didn't put himself in the proper position to obstruct Kikaha. Brady never stood a chance of getting the ball off and was brought down. This came on third down, so, New England had to punt for the first time in the game.
…The Patriots blitzed Brees a second time, on 3rd-and-8, and the veteran QB connected with Coleman again for a huge gain down the right sideline. Gilmore was covering Coleman, but TE Coby Fleener appeared to get away with a shove that knocked Gilmore to the ground. Fleener was Chung's man on the play, and both players made contact with Gilmore.
This gave Coleman, originally in the slot, a wide open lane down the sideline for Brees to find him and move the chains.
…Second-year undrafted CB Jonathan Jones normally plays a lot on special teams, and still does, but may have had his best defensive performance against New Orleans as well. His most important play came when he broke up what looked like a sure touchdown pass from Brees to WR Ted Ginn on the left side of the end zone. Jones used great technique and awareness not to make contact with Ginn before the ball arrived, because Jones wasn't looking back at the ball. Jones waited till Ginn made a play for the ball and punched it loose before Ginn could secure it and get his feet down.
…Jones proceeded to jump offside on the ensuing Saints field goal attempt, but instead of keeping the points on the board, New Orleans chose to go for it on 4th-and-3. Brees nearly managed on two occasions to draw the Patriots' d-line offside and pick up a cheap first down, but the D held their ground and the Saints were flagged for delay of game. That could have proved a mistake had Wil Lutz not converted a 35-yard boot for the second time. This just showed that New Orleans felt it couldn't win if it didn't keep pace with New England's ability to score touchdowns, which the Patriots did again on the next drive.
…The Patriots effectively ran screens and end-arounds all day against New Orleans, and that allowed New England to run fakes off those plays for big gains. Brady completed a long catch-and-run pass to Hogan on a fake screen, then should have had his fourth touchdown toss of the day when he faked another screen and Cooks easily beat his single defender down the seam. But Brady underthrew Cooks severely, forcing him to stop running and fall backwards just to make the catch short of the goal line. A better throw would have resulted in Cooks running untouched into the end zone.
…RB Mike Gillislee, who ran strong against New Orleans, mopped up with a 2-yard plunge to put the game essentially out of reach. Credit to Develin, TE Dwayne Allen, Gronk, and Solder for clearing Gillislee's path to paydirt.
…Rookie DE Deatrich Wise made a couple of consecutive plays to stuff New Orleans on their next possession. On 2nd-and-2, he dropped RB Adrian Peterson for a1-yard loss after shoving LG Senio Kelemete to the turf to get into the backfield. Then, on the next play, he used a nice duck-under move to beat LT Andrus Peat and give himself the opportunity to fall at Brees' feet and wrap him up by the leg. Brees threw the ball away to avoid the sack, but Wise forced the Saints into another 4th-down attempt.
…On that desperation 4th-down play, New England blitzed Brees again, and this time it seemed to work. Newcomer Cassisus Marsh, at left defensive end, used a great swim move to beat RT Josh LeRibeus. Marsh had a clear shot at Brees, who rushed his throw to avoid being sacked. It was underthrown and his intended receiver never had a chance to make a play on it. For all intents and purposes, the game was decided by this point. New Orleans couldn't keep up offensively with New England.
…We don't often see the Patriots having to rush their field goal team onto the field at the end of a half or a game because they have no timeouts left, but that's exactly what happened at the end of the first half, and they pulled off the rare fire drill flawlessly.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…Wise showed up positively again in a critical situation, on 3rd-and-7 on New Orleans' opening drive of the second half. New England chose to blitz, mostly from Brees' right side. This left Wise alone with Peat on the left. Wise beat Peat with his speed, getting behind Brees in the backfield and pulling him down to force the Saints to punt. Second week in a row that Wise has recorded a sack.
…Jones, the cornerback, again broke up a deep pass by Brees that would have resulted in a first down in the Patriots red zone. The next play, Brees was forced to throw the ball away thanks to good coverage by the secondary, and the Saints missed a 49-yard field goal.
…New England players suffered several injuries in this game. While it remains unclear how long any of them will be out – Gronk (groin), Rowe (groin), Burkhead (ribs), Dorsett (left knee) – it's a concern this early in the season, especially after Amendola and LB Dont'a Hightower were unavailable this week. In Dorsett's case, it appeared that he sustained his injury while scrambling to get open at the end of New England's first drive of the 4th quarter. His inability to get open as a result may have contributed to Brady having to hold onto the ball and eventually give himself up for a 3rd-down sack. Gronk told reporters on Monday that he's OK, but the injury report will be a focus of media attention this coming Texans Week.