When it rains across New England, it usually pours. That's absolutely the case with the Patriots after an all-time franchise loss in Dallas to the Cowboys. Cornerback Christian Gonzalez is officially done for the season with a labrum tear, and Matt Judon, while not confirmed to be out the rest of the way, maybe joining him after undergoing surgery for a bicep tear. Of all the guys the Patriots couldn't afford to lose this year, you could argue they were No. 1 and 2. Even if the Patriots have the bodies on the edge to make up for Judon's loss, he was a free 10-plus sacks in a box. Gonzalez, meanwhile, was arguably one of the five best corners in the game through those first three games, and with all the injuries they have at cornerback, this is the literal nightmare scenario.
Combining that with the issues on offense right now, things could snowball quickly going into the bye after the Colts game in Germany. Well before that, however, the Patriots begin this stretch against the New Orleans Saints, who won in Foxborough all of just two seasons ago. A bit of a different look for them now with Derek Carr under center and electric new talent like Chris Olave, Kendre Miller, and Rashid Shaheed, among the usual suspects on this Saints squad to boot. Even with some issues on offense themselves, New Orleans' defense ranks just outside the top 10 in nearly every major category, so they aren't exactly a pushover. If the Patriots want to get things on track, they need to win this game, and they have some old friends back in the fold and ready to go to make up for their defensive losses.
Date: Sunday, October 8
Start Time: 1:00 EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Kevin Harlan and Trent Green on the call)
Patriots Uniform Info: All Navy
New Orleans Saints
To what should be no surprise, the Saints' defense is once again one of the NFL's best through four weeks. They're on track to have their fourth consecutive season ranking ninth or better in points allowed, and they've started 2023 with four consecutive outings forcing at least one turnover and allowing less than 250 passing yards. They can thank Marshon Lattimore for that, as the former Defensive Rookie of the Year has been lights out to begin 2023, save for a shameless DPI penalty on Mike Evans last week. Lattimore is currently averaging 1.25 PBUs per game and has yielded a passer rating of 57.5, which would be the best of his career (in a full season, assuming he stays healthy) by a wide margin. Needless to say, Mac Jones shouldn't be looking his way from across the field at any point on Sunday.
The bad news for New Orleans is that one of their emerging stars on defense is dealing with some kind of illness, IDL Bryan Bresee out of Clemson. If not for injuries plaguing him in his final few years at Clemson, he probably would have been a first-round pick, but you can see why based on the first few games of this season. His production isn't too far off of Jalen Carter's, as a matter of fact (Disclaimer: Jalen Carter is a better football player by a good margin, just so we're clear). High motor player, has multi-technique versatility, and some great hands. My guess is he's probably good for Sunday, but that's something to monitor in the interim. But watch what Bresee can do upfront here. Great job with the inside swim move and blow through the A-gap to make a big tackle in the middle of a Bucaneers' red zone push.
Although it seems as if this Patriots offensive front is getting a notable-ish member back, this is a Saints line that can absolutely get after it. Their numbers are just about the same as the Patriots, with the ageless Cam Jordan and Carl Granderson doing the heavy lifting for the black and gold. Also worth noting is that New Orleans is one of 14 teams to blitz on less than 25 percent of their defensive snaps. Much like the Jets, the Saints feel more than comfortable sending four and are pretty liberal with bringing Jordan in on stunts back up the middle. It'd be a safe bet to assume he's getting the double-team treatment more often than not, but the Saints have no shortage of guys who can get home. Before this week, they had three straight games of at least three sacks.
Some final notes on this Saints defense before we head to the other side of the ball. Before last weekend, they either rolled out in Cover-1 or Cover-3 nearly 75 percent of the time, with the rest mainly being quarters and Cover-2 looks. Secondly, They'll be without one of their key pieces in the secondary, former New York Jet Marcus Maye. He's set to serve the final game of a three-game suspension for a substance abuse violation, stemming back from a 2021 incident.
Patriots fans saw a bit of this in 2021, but this is equal parts Drew Brees' Saints and part new-school Saints offensive football. You still have many mainstays of his last run, like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and all the Stallworths on the offensive line. But you have your new faces like Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, Trevor Penning, and longtime Raiders' signal caller Derek Carr under center.
Although Carr is dealing with an AC Joint Sprain in his throwing shoulder, he's opted to be out there for his guys. While admirable, the Saints had him throw nearly 40 times against the Buccaneers, which is objectively stupid. He picked up only 127 yards, just 24 more than he threw against Green Bay with 18 fewer throws. Not helping things either last weekend was the Saints ran the ball just 17 times (excluding two Carr runs). 11 with Kamara, just once with Kendre Miller, and four times with Taysom Hill, which is what would get me upset if I were a Saints fan.
While I harbor no ill will towards Tayson Hill, I do towards the idea of Taysom Hill. A player who takes the ball out of the hands of your quarterback needlessly while also taking carries and targets away from your top skill guys. There were times, especially when Sean Payton was still in New Orleans when it felt like he was forcing the issues with Hill for no good reason. And with all due respect, I'm not trying to take the ball out of my quarterback or playmaker's hands so Payton's pet project can get involved. I've seen Saints fans frustrated with the offense and while that's understandable, it's not like teams don't know what the Saints have done with him for the better part of six years.
So far, he is third on the Saints with 20 carries for a team-high 101 yards, has two competitions for 21 yards, and has three grabs on five targets for 15 yards. Bank on him coming in and stopping a good Saints drive dead in its tracks at least once.
Another bad omen for the Saints is the concussion issues that top lineman Andrus Peat is dealing with. Conventional wisdom would tell you he's not taking the flight north from New Orleans this week, but he did get to practice on Friday. Even then, this is still an offensive line that's allowed over three sacks per game and hasn't done much to help the running game out. Even without Matt Judon, I wouldn't call this a bad Patriots defensive front, so that's probably your key matchup this weekend.
New England Patriots
Going to be entirely real here, if you didn't think this was going to happen at some point before his Chargers contract expired, that's kind of on you. It became clear almost immediately that J.C. Jackson was not a natural fit for Brandon Staley's Fangio scheme. Once he started being a healthy scratch in the opening few weeks of the season, the writing on the wall was as clear as day. Hell, this wasn't even a move that was only because of the Gonzalez news, although I'm sure that helped speed things up). According to Jeff Howe, the Patriots kept tabs on Jackson for several weeks now, so I still think this would have happened regardless, especially with Marcus Jones and Jack Jones still hurt. The trade itself is jumping from a '25 sixth to seventh-rounder, and they're on the hook for zero guaranteed dollars beyond this year. I'm fascinated to see what happens after this season, but Jackson instantly gives this defense a playmaking element they've severely lacked through four games.
Moving onto the loss of Matt Judon, the Patriots have bodies already in the building who can make up for his loss against the pass and run. Firstly, Keion White, whom Jerod Mayo said the team "really need[s] him to show up." If there's one good thing to come out of Judon being hurt, it's that you're getting White, who's looked fantastic in his limited workload, the chance to see how he handles a more proper workload in year one. The other part of the equation is Trey Flowers, who's been back with the team for about two months. It's unclear if he'll play this week for sure, but he's practicing for the first time, meaning his PUP clock has started, and I'd imagine if he's out this week, he's probably a week away at most. On the whole, the Pats should be fine on the edge, but Judon's guaranteed dozen-plus sacks a year is a gigantic loss.
As far as matchups go, I think no matter what, Jonathan Jones, who should be back this week, is going to draw Chris Olave. He's the best option to match his speed, and Jackson just got torched some weeks ago by Tyreek Hill playing man coverage. Jackson traveling with Michael Thomas seems like the best course of action since he's more than capable of working in the slot, which leaves Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade to contend with Shaheed. One last thing on the pass catchers, the Saints' three tight ends, Jawaun Johnson, Foster Moreau, and Jimmy Graham, combine for just 89 yards and one touchdown on 15 combined targets. Furthermore, Johnson, who's done by far the most of the three, is already out for this weekend. With that in mind, my game plan would be to stack the box, don't lose contain on Alvin Kamara, and force Carr to win with a bad throwing shoulder.
The best news for the Patriots offense is that things can (hopefully) only get better from their wretched offensive outing in Dallas. Although this might be a slightly better Saints defense, there was no reason for things to be as bad as they were. With that in mind, Bill Belichick went out of his way to applaud Mac Jones' mental toughness after he rightfully took his lumps in the media, local and national, all week. Even from his former co-conspirator Mike Lombardi, who tried to argue that the Patricia offense was better than the B.O'B offense, in case you're interested (categorically false, by the way. One has structure, one didn't).
Mac needing to play better is obvious, but there are another dozen-plus guys in the same boat. No one could get open after that first drive, and the running game was bad all day. It'll be a great indicator of how the rest of this year will go, depending on what happens with this offense on Sunday.
Earlier this week, I lamented the signing of Riley Reiff, who's yet to play a snap in the regular season for New England, but the veteran tackle is another player who's returned to practice this week. If you recall, he was getting praise for his work at right guard during camp, so if he slots in there with Onwenu going out to tackle, that's why. Personally, I'm more concerned with left guard, and while I don't hold Antonio Mafi at fault since he's new to being an offensive lineman, he's certainly taken his lumps. This team doesn't just need Cole Strange back but needs him to be much closer to his good outings from last year. We've seen some great flashes from the Chatanooga prospect before, mainly putting together some great reps against Cam Heyward of the Steelers in his second-ever game.
Points Spread: NO +1 (-112)* | NE -1 (-108)
Moneyline: NO (-102)* | NE (-116)
Over/Under: O 39.5 (-110) | U 39.5 (-110)*
Lines via FanDuel as of October 6
*- My Pick
While the Patriots are 3-2 ATS as a home favorite since last year and the Saints a 3-3 road dog, this is the first time either team is in this position in 2023. It's also worth mentioning that the Saints opened up as a 1.5-point favorite, with things swiftly shifting toward New England as the week progressed. Given the state of both teams, I like the Saints both ways and the Under. The over here would be quite an upset.
I don't want to say my faith in this team is shot, largely because of the defense, but I need to see this team pick up a win to get some faith back. If not, things will snowball REAL QUICK with Buffalo and Miami just a few weeks out. Even with Carr nursing an AC joint sprain, this is a team with a lot of the same pieces that came into Foxborough just two years ago and suffocated the Patriots defensively while getting better offensively, seeing as Mike Thomas is fully healthy again and Chris Olave is, well, Chris Olave. Could the Patriots win? Yes, but personally, I don't see it.
Final Score: New Orleans Saints 20, New England Patriots 10
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