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Saints vs. Patriots: Five things to watch

Posted Oct 12, 2013

Saints will need to have tunnel vision

1. TUNNEL VISION – The New Orleans Saints should be ecstatic to be 5-0, one of three undefeated NFL teams. But they can’t play that way, can’t be caught looking ahead to the bye week and pointing toward the break. So far, the team has done a great job each week of compartmentalizing and focusing on the task at hand. It shouldn’t be that hard to do this week, considering the caliber of opponent. Still, it’s important that New Orleans has been able to block out the platitudes that are continuing to increase each week. That’s a sign of maturity that the Saints again need to display if they want to remain undefeated entering their break. Plus, there’s the little matter of the Saints having hung a 38-17 pasting on the Patriots at the Superdome in 2009. Some of the players on New England’s roster – read: quarterback Tom Brady – remember that.

2. MIRROR, MIRROR – When Coach Sean Payton was hired, he mentioned that he wanted the Saints to resemble the Patriots, in that he wanted the team to become an annual Super Bowl contender. Since 2006, few teams have been more successful than the Saints, who pretty much have delivered on Payton’s wish. Four double-digit win seasons, three NFC South Division titles, two NFC championship game appearances and one Super Bowl victory in seven seasons (one without Payton) is a pretty impressive counter to New England’s success over the same period of time (seven double-digit win seasons, six AFC East Division titles, four conference title game appearances and two AFC championship game victories). The Saints are 35-23 on the road over that time, something else New England has done well.

3. YOU GUESSED IT – Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has appeared on this list almost every week, with good reason. He has four consecutive 100-yard receiving games as he continues to redefine the limits of what a tight end can do. Payton’s willingness to move Graham around, quarterback Drew Brees’ ability to find him and Graham’s determination to improve his game and become the best at his position have proven to be a deadly combination. New England Coach Bill Belichick – who is to defense what Payton is to offense – surely will have a gameplan to control Graham. But so has everyone else, and the Saints have been able to figure them out.

4. ENCORE PERFORMANCE – So far this season, the Saints' defense has allowed just three touchdowns in two road games. Remaining on that pace will be a tall task against the Patriots and Brady but if there’s a season to do it, this might be the one – New England was held to two field goals in a seven-point loss in Cincinnati last Sunday. The Patriots have scored 36 points in their previous two home games and haven’t topped 23 points in four of their five games. Clearly, Brady isn’t yet comfortable with his new stable of receivers. The Saints need to keep it that way.

5. GOOEY MIDDLE – New England may be a tad soft in the middle of the defense given that mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is out for the season with an injury. New Orleans might be inclined to make that a point of attack in the run game. The Saints have been adamant about getting in their rush attempts and the Patriots have to know that opponents will dare them to muscle up and plug the middle minus Wilfork. This could be an interesting strategic matchup.

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