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Scouting the Matchup: Brady looks to bounce back

The Patriots offense is looking forward to taking on a weak New Orleans secondary.


The Patriots had their problems running the ball during their 42-27 loss to a Kansas City team that ranked 26th against the run last year.  New England finished the game with 124 yards on 35 carries (3.5 yards per carry) but was stopped twice on fourth-and-one plays. The good news is New England was able to punch the ball into the end zone three times on short-yardage plays near the goal line. Mike Gillislee scored the three TDs on runs of 2 yards, 2 yards and 1 yard. Gillislee finished the game with a team-high 45 yards on 15 attempts. James White, who gained 38 yards on 10 carries, was the only other player who had more than three rushing attempts. The Saints were 14th against the run last season, a ranking that may be misleading because teams had so much success passing against them. They could be without starting linebacker Stephone Anthony for the second straight week, which could leave rookie Alex Anzalone in a tough spot. The Patriots deep backfield should be able to get things going on the road. Advantage: PATRIOTS


Running back Mark Ingram took a huge step forward last season when he rushed for 1,043 yards on 205 attempts and averaged more than 5 yards per carry (5.1) for the first time since being drafted in 2011. The Saints also signed Adrian Peterson in the offseason. Peterson, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, spent the first 10 years of his NFL career with Minnesota. He isn't what he once was - Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012 and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark (1,485) for the seventh time in 2015 - but New Orleans is hoping he has enough fuel left to at least complement Ingram in the backfield. The Patriots run defense had a tough time against Kansas City. The Chiefs ran for 185 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. The Saints did not open many running holes in their opening loss at Minnesota, but the Patriots struggles in that department are tough to ignore unless the Saints fall behind and are in catch-up mode. Advantage: SAINTS


Tom Brady and Co. turned in a lackluster performance through the air against Kansas City, which often clogged the middle of the field by dropping eight players into coverage. Despite having plenty of time to throw for most of the contest, Brady tossed 20 passes that were incomplete. He was 16 of 36 for 267 yards and didn't throw a touchdown pass. The other bad news is that the Chiefs were able to get to Brady when they applied pressure late in the game, as he was sacked three times on New England's final two possessions. Injuries are also mounting in the receiving corps as the Patriots lost Danny Amendola to a head injury in the third quarter. The Saints may be able to cure what ails New England's passing game, however, as they ranked 32nd (last) against the pass in 2016. Their young secondary was obliterated by Sam Bradford in the opener as well. Advantage: PATRIOTS


Alex Smith passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns against the Patriots in the opener, so it's scary to think about what New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees might do. Brees, who is 17 months younger than Brady, led the NFL in completions (471), pass attempts (673) and passing yards (5,208) last season. Michael Thomas, a second-year receiver out of Ohio State, will be the team's go-to guy in the passing game. His emergence last season (92 receptions for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns) was one of the reasons New Orleans dealt Brandin Cooks to the Patriots. New Orleans also became the landing spot for receiver Austin Carr, who spent the preseason with New England. The Saints won't have slot receiver Willie Snead, who was handed a three-game suspension earlier this month for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Look for Tommy Lee Lewis to test the Patriots deep at least once after New England's struggles in the big-play department.  Advantage: SAINTS


Although New England did an above-average job covering kicks against Kansas City, they also made plenty of mental mistakes in the kicking game. Defensive back Brandon King received a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness while covering a kickoff, and Brandon Bolden and Cassius March were hit with running-into-the-kicker penalties on consecutive plays in the third quarter.  Amendola's injury means someone else will likely be returning punts against the Saints. New Orleans moved on from special teams coach Greg McMahon following the 2016 season when, among other things, the Saints had several field goal attempts blocked in close games.  Saints punter Thomas Morstead ranked fifth in both yards per punt (48.3) and net yards per punt (42.4) last season and is one of the best in the business. Advantage: SAINTS


As Patriots coach Bill Belichick said following the Kansas City loss, the list of things the Patriots need to improve on is a lengthy one. Fortunately for New England, opening the season on a Thursday night gave the Patriots extra time to prepare for this contest. The Saints aren't as lucky. New Orleans opened its season at Minnesota on Monday night and will have a short week to get ready. Injuries have become a concern for New England. In addition to Amendola's head injury, linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) got banged up in the Kansas City game and missed practice time. New Orleans also has the advantage of playing at home, but the short week vs. the long week should be a significant edge for New England. Advantage: PATRIOTS 

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