By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots got their season off to a rough start. The New Orleans Saints had a much worse experience in their season opener.
Drew Brees still looked like Drew Brees, but beyond that the Saints were a bit of a mess.
As a result of the Saints losing 29-19 in mostly ugly fashion to the Vikings, when the Patriots head to New Orleans this weekend to face the Saints on what will be a short week for the home team, the early arrow is pointing in the Patriots’ direction.
Of course, as Alex Smith and the Chiefs reminded us last week, nothing should be considered a sure thing in the NFL. But in terms of an opportunity for a bounce-back, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The Saints’ Running Game Looked Terrible
The Saints ran the ball 21 times and gained just 60 yards. Somehow, they looked even worse than those numbers would indicate.
Adrian Peterson “led” the team in rushing with 18 yards on six carries. Rookie Alvin Kamara also ran for 18 yards, though he had seven carries to do it. Mark Ingram ran for just 17 yards on six carries. Peterson had the team’s longest run on the first play of the game, a simple 9-yard gain.
The Saints just could not get the run game going at all, with no running backs really having any room to operate. The issue was most glaring midway through the second quarter, when the Saints faced a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Receiver Ted Ginn took a jet sweep around the right end for a five-yard gain. Ingram took a handoff to the right side on the next play and was swallowed up by a sea of purple for a 1-yard loss. Right tackle Zach Strief suffered an injury on the play (more on him in a moment). Brees then took a snap out of the pistol and handed to Ingram for an inside run. He fought as much as he could, but he was tackled by four Vikings at the 2-yard line. The Saints settled for a field goal.
Surprisingly, it was only the eighth-worst team rushing performance of Week 1 in terms of total yardage and yards-per-attempt. But it nevertheless represents much less of a problem for the New England defense, which allowed the Chiefs to gain 6.9 yards per carry (No. 1 in NFL in Week 1) and 185 rushing yards (No. 2) total last week.
Adrian Peterson Appears Quite Unhappy Already
Closing in on 2,500 yards on his career, Adrian Peterson wants the ball. But Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael seemed intent on not giving it to him. Peterson was on the field for just nine of the Saints’ 62 total offensive snaps.
As one might imagine, Peterson didn’t like this.
Both Peterson and Payton downplayed their little sideline interaction, and really, it’s not necessarily the huge story that it’s being made out to be. Still, Peterson was likely envisioning a much more triumphant return to Minnesota. He’s unlikely to suddenly be a happy team player in the offense come Sunday afternoon.
Right Tackle Zach Strief Suffered An Injury
Drew Brees was under pressure throughout the night, unofficially taking three sacks (only one counted) and being forced to make several throwaways out of bounds. The running game, as has been mentioned, was a mess.
But it all might get worse for the Saints, as Strief — an offensive captain — suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. He’ll now miss several weeks, according to reports.
The Patriots’ pass rush is a notable weakness, but facing a backup right tackle and a likely a rookie left tackle (starting LT Terron Armstead missed Monday’s game as he recovers from a shoulder injury) in Week 2 should help.
The Saints’ Pass Defense Is A Mess
One might think that with the Rob Ryan Experience ending nearly two full years ago, the Saints might have turned some corner on defense by now. One would be wrong.
Sam Bradford picked apart the Saints defense, completing 27 of 32 passes (84.4 percent) for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He took just one sack and posted a 143.0 passer rating — the very best such mark of his seven-year career. It was also the highest completion percentage of any game in his career.
Adam Thielen caught nine passes for 157 yards, the second-best single-game output of his career. Stefon Diggs caught seven passes for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns, one of which saw him completely uncovered running toward the corner of the end zone.
The 341 passing yards allowed put the Saints second-worst in the NFL in Week 1, better only than … New England’s 352 yards allowed. The 10.8 yards allowed per attempt was the worst in the NFL.
While the Patriots’ own struggles likely means Brees will have opportunities of his own against the Patriots, there’s reason to believe that the talented defensive backfield for New England simply had a bad day and will be much better in the long run. The Saints? There’s not quite that same level of optimism.
Brady should have a field day with a Saints D that couldn’t even slow down Sam Bradford.
The Run Defense Is Almost As Bad As The Pass Defense
The Patriots should also be able to get what they want on the ground when they go to New Orleans, as the Saints allowed the Vikings to rush for 129 yards on 30 carries. That 4.3 average yards per carry was the sixth-worst defensive showing in the NFL in Week 1.
Again, it must be noted that the Patriots are atop that list, having allowed 6.9 yards per carry vs. Kansas City. So perhaps that helps the Ingram-Peterson-Kamara trio on Sunday.
But the quartet of Mike Gillislee, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead should present problems across the board for a Saints defense that allowed rookie Dalvin Cook to go for 127 yards on 22 carries.
Both the Saints and Patriots should be able to put up points on offense, but with the Patriots having the edge in talent on both sides of the ball, it’s looking at the moment like a Week 2 bounce-back victory is on the horizon for Bill Belichick’s team. Remember, the Patriots went up against a much better defense last week but still managed to score 27 points. They might come close to doubling that in Week 2.