While Head Coach Bill Belichick thought it was good for the players to get home with their families for Thanksgiving, the team had to get back to work Friday.
With all the quarterback talk this week, it was easy to overlook the fact that New England's defense faces a huge task in stopping Ricky Williams this weekend. In nine games he already has 856 yards, which tops the NFC and ranks third overall.
"There is no question that the running game and Ricky are a big focus of our preparations this week," Belichick said. "They have a very powerful running game. It is not what I would call a finesse game or a game where they really try to spread you out extraordinarily. They count on their blockers to make the blocks and to get the runner started. Ricky is a very good downhill runner. He is best when he has his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage and building speed and momentum into the line."
Momentum is a big thing for the 5-10, 236-pound Williams. He gets stronger as the game wears on, with 471 of his yards and three of his four rushing touchdowns coming in the second half. He averages 3.5 yards per carry in the first quarter and 4.4 yards from the second quarter on, including a lofty 5 yards per carry in the fourth quarter.
"It is good to say well we will force him outside, but that is a lot easier said than done because of the way the plays are designed that he runs," Belichick said. "Most of them are inside type plays. Even the ones that start outside a lot of times cut back. Now he is fast enough that if you just pack everybody inside he can bounce out and make yards outside. It is not that he is a slow back, but I think he is better when he runs, not too far on the perimeter and is running downhill. That is the key for him is to get going downhill. So sure we want to try to do that as much as possible."
That could be a difficult task if inside linebacker Ted Johnson is unable to play. Johnson is questionable on the injury report, which Belichick said had no changes because the team hadn't practiced since Wednesday. Johnson did think he'd be able to practice Friday.
Saints sack attack
New Orleans is fourth in the NFC in sacks with 24, including the team-high eight put up by Charlie Clemons. The unusual thing about Clemons leading the Saints is that he is a middle linebacker, which is not the customary spot for a sack artist.
Clemons blitzes a lot, but what makes him most effective his the versatility that allows him to move to defensive end, where he can use his speed to go past offensive linemen on third downs.
"[On third downs] he plays opposite of Joe Johnson and they move [defensive end] [Darren] Howard inside with [La'Roi] Glover," Belichick said. "So that gives them a lot of speed and athleticism outside. He plays a similar role to what [Bryan] Cox played for us. He plays inside in regular, then he goes to end in sub and they blitz him up the middle and sometimes they blitz him off the weak side. But he's a very active and a good pass rushing middle linebacker, which there aren't many of."
What makes the Saints defensive line able to get so much pressure is the ability of each lineman. Howard, Glover, Joe Johnson and Norman Hand are all capable of being disruptive. The sack totals are down a bit for New Orleans this season, but that is more a result of teams being forced to throw sooner than they'd like.
"I think they are still getting real good pressure on the passer," Belichick said. "I think teams are more conscious of it, and the ball is coming out of there a little quicker. They are a little more protection oriented.
"Teams aren't as quick to leave their linemen singled up and have the quarterback hold the ball. Basically they are trying to either get it out of there or, if it's a deeper pattern, they have to keep somebody else in to bump the ends. Keep the tight end in or do something to try to create a little more time.
"But the funny thing about that though is I would say that there's quite a number of their sacks have been really coverage sacks, too. They do get blocked longer and the quarterback does have more time to throw, but their coverage is good and then the quarterback holds the ball and eventually gets run down."
A chance for time
Just a week after questioning how much of an impact tight end Arther Love could have on the field this season, Belichick said Friday there was a chance the rookie could be in uniform this Sunday.
If Love does see time, it will probably be in a limited dose, similar to the action Chris Eitzmann saw last season. The expectations still have to be curtailed because of the short amount of practice time Love has under his belt, but he has shown enough to warrant serious consideration now.
"I don't know whether he's going to get his letter sweater or not, but depending on how it goes with the other guys, with the injured guys, I think there's a chance that he could see some action," Belichick said. "It would probably be limited on special teams and offense until he gets a chance to break in and see how it goes.
"I think there are other players ahead of him, but in terms of his experience if he got an opportunity, if the spot opened up then I think we could use him in certain situations on offense and in the kicking game. But with no game experience, preseason or obviously regular season to this point, what's going to happen in the games is a little bit of an unknown."
Things don't look promising on the turnover front for the next few weeks. New England is minus-4 on the season, while the next three opponents are a combined plus-44. The Saints are plus-10, the New York Jets are plus-22 and Cleveland is plus-12… The Patriots already have more interception this year (11) than they had in all of 2000 (10).