Jul 30, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (left) talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during training camp at the practice fields of Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Fresh off getting their behinds handed to them by the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots take on their biggest test of the season in the high flying, undefeated New Orleans Saints, in Foxboro. The Patriots had the worst struggles I’ve ever seen since Belichick and Brady took this team over, and it was embarrassing to watch. The offense put up an all time stinker of a game, but like other Patriots fans did remind me during my anti-Patriots rant post game, the defense did play at a very high level. So lets take a look at a few things the Patriots must do, in order to win this game versus the Saints.
1. Beat Up Jimmy Graham on the Line
Jimmy Graham is by far the best tight end in the NFL right now, and he is a matchup nightmare for all teams that play him. The Patriots have had trouble with top notch tight ends so far this season. This is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen, and things have to change when they come up against Graham this weekend. Like they did against Tony Gonzalez on the final Falcons drive, they have to do against Graham, that means getting physical with him at the line of scrimmage and making it hard for him to get his way. The Patriots don’t have a lot to worry about in the Saints running game, so it could pay in huge dividends to pay more attention to Graham, and make the other weapons on the team beat them.
2. Consistent Pressure on Drew Brees
The one thing that no Patriots fan wants to see, is Drew Brees tear this secondary to shreds. We all know he’s plenty capable of doing so, and if he has the time he WILL do it. So how do you remedy this situation? You collapse his pocket, and make him get rid of the ball quickly. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will be essential here, and same with Tommy Kelly getting inside pressure, and collapsing his pocket through the middle. Brees isn’t a threat to get outside the pocket and make plays with his legs, so if the Patriots can get a good first push on those offensive lineman, it could be huge, as the Saints receivers will hopefully not have enough time to let deep routes develop downfield.
3. Time for the Running Game to Find a Spark
This is getting so frustrating, the running game is almost as awful as the passing game, but at least with the passing attack you know Brady will figure things out. Ridley hasn’t been able to do it, Blount hasn’t been able to do it, Bolden hasn’t been able to do it… Can we get Shane Vereen back sooner please? But Vereen aside, who steps up? Who runs with some purpose and plays with some intensity? I still have some faith in Ridley, so I think he should get a majority of the carries, but he’s not a sure thing at this point. One big game is all that’s needed I feel, one breakout game against a mediocre rushing defense, and hopefully that can be the start of things for the season. The Patriots have one rushing touchdown through five games this year, that’s not acceptable.
Authors Note: When this piece was scheduled to be published, Gronk was still on track to play. I realize now that there are reports saying he might not play again, which is going to be a huge blow to this team and Brady and Co..
Thank the good lord that our tight end is back. To some Patriots fans, the return of stud tight end Rob Gronkowski is like the second coming of Jesus, and while I’m not as hyped up, I’m definitely excited. Gronk brings things to this offense, that no one else in the NFL could do. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in football meaning the running game should hopefully get a boost from him. He’s a big, sure handed body meaning he should use that physicality to open up the middle of the field, and make things easier on Edelman and Amendola, to go along with the fact that he’s a godsend for the redzone offense. Finally, he knows Tom Brady, and I think that’s the biggest thing that brings to the table. Brady knows what he wants from Gronk, and Gronk knows what to expect from Brady. While he can’t fix every problem, he’s a stopgap for now while the rookies continue to get used to their surroundings.