by Steve Geller, Steve@wwl.com,posted Oct 10 2013 10:50AM
The 5-and-eaux start by the Saints is the best by the team since the 2009 Super Bowl season, and many people are starting to believe a return to the big game is possible this year. The offense is currently ranked 4th overall in the NFL, while the defense is tied for 11th in the league. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan should be called "the miracle worker" for what he's done with a defensive unit that couldn't stop ANYONE last season.
The Black & Gold face their biggest challenge of the season so far this week as they travel to New England to face a Patriots ballclub that lost their first game of the season last week and are still likely steaming from the defeat at the hands of the Bengals. Here are some players I'll be looking out for in the showdown:
Cornerback Jabari Greer
Oh man did the Saints top corner get abused last week in Chicago. According to ProFootballFocus.com Greer gave up 87 yards on four catches to Bears WR Alshon Jeffery and also allowed a catch to four other receivers. In total he surrendered 128 yards and a touchdown. OUCH!
I fully expect Greer to respond in a big way this week against a shaky Pats receiving corps as well as playing on a surface that is field turf and not grass.
Wide Receiver Kenny Stills
Stills really electrified during the preseason but has been seemingly lost in the shuffle now that the regular season has started. He only has 7 receptions for 134 yards thru 5 games and didn't register a single catch last week. Not a one as he dropped passes!
With Lance Moore M.I.A. so far this year, you would think Stills would be the benefactor. This could be that big week for him as I'm sure Bill Belichick's top priority is to not let monster TE Jimmy Graham beat them.
Quarterback Drew Brees
Seems a pretty obvious choice since as Brees goes, so do the Black & Gold. But the only thing that still comes to mind when I think about Tom Brady and the Pats is a Monday Night football game in 2009 when Drew shredded New England in the Superdome. He threw for 371 yards, 5 scores and ended the evening with a perfect passer rating. Brees is still the only player to toss 5 TDs against a Belichick coached team.
Brees looks just as locked in and focused as Coach Payton this season, and it feels as if a special season is a brewin' in the Big Easy. This game will make a statement to the entire league that Drew & Krewe are for real.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski
New England's lackluster offensive start to the season isn't completely due to Gronk being sidelined because of a spinal issue, but he does provide a huge boost to a unit averaging just 19 points a contest currently.
The 6 ft. 6, 265 pounder is considered by many as the premier TE in the game, and Tom Brady and this Pats team really do need him desperately right now. The big question though is: IF he is cleared to play Sunday, how effective will he be? Any Gronk is better than no Gronk for this team right now.
Cornerback Aqib Talib
The Patriots defense has looked a look better since the arrival of Talib last season. He is capable of big plays and has already picked off opposing quarterback 4 times this season. New England hasn't had a ball hawk with his ability since Asante Samuel.
Falcons QB Mat Ryan threw at the elite corner 7 times last week and completed NONE of those passes. Brees will have to be extra mindful of where Talib is on the field, just like he had to know where Darrelle Revis was when N.O. played Tampa.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes
This guy was a winner in college with the Florida Gators and had a breakout year in 2012 with 92 tackles, 1 interception and 7 passes defended. He isn't happy that he hasn't gotten a new deal as he's in the last year of his rookie contract. As a result, he has been taking it out on the opposition.
Spikes has been a beast against the run blowing up plays in the backfield and providing the Pats with some extra bulk in the middle. New England really needs Spikes to step up in DT Vince Wolfork's absence and in turn will probably result in a big payday for the linebacker.