Bill Belichick Knows Saints Present Patriots’ Biggest Challenge Yet

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November 25, 2009

Bill Belichick Knows Saints Present Patriots' Biggest Challenge Yet FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick called the New Orleans Saints “as big of a challenge as [the New England Patriots] could have” this season — and this time, it?s not just coachspeak.

The Saints? offense is as prolific as it is balanced, which is a brutal combination to prepare against. New Orleans has the top-ranked offense in the league, both in points scored (369, or 36.9 per game) and total yards (4,205).

Naturally, the first thing that sticks out about the undefeated Saints is quarterback Drew Brees, who has completed 218 of 320 passes (68.1 percent) for 2,746 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. What might be overlooked is their running attack, which is led by Pierre Thomas (584 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, five touchdowns), Mike Bell (514, 4.5 YPC, four TD) and Reggie Bush (277, 5.0 YPC, five TD). Thomas and Bush are also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. Belichick went so far as to compare Bush?s role as a receiver to Marshall Faulk‘s role during his heyday with the St. Louis Rams.

The Saints are ranked fifth in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns, and they?re sixth in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns. And here is the truly amazing statistic: The Saints have attempted 320 passing plays and 324 rushing plays. Their balance is simply astounding.

?Well, the No. 1 thing I think you look at is the fact that they have just about as many runs as they do passes,? said Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees. ?That?s always tough to prepare for when you have such a balanced attack.?

This isn?t like preparing for the New York Jets, whose top-ranked rushing offense is complimented by one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. Ditto for the Indianapolis Colts, who have the No. 1 passing offense but are ranked 31st in rushing.

Teams just can?t sell out to stop the Saints in one area because they are good enough to burn their opponents on the ground or through the air. Defensively, the Patriots have to stick to their system and hope it?s good enough to keep the Saints at bay.

?I think it?s one of those games where everybody involved in the game is going to have to do a good job, take care of their area and their responsibility, because it?s really hard to help somewhere else,” Belichick said. “As soon as you lighten the load in one spot, you are giving them opportunities. You?ve just got to be sound, be solid across the board, and hope you can hold up — and they make it tough on you. To me, it?s easy to see why they haven?t lost: They are very good at everything.”

The compliments kept flowing from Belichick, whose Patriots scored a league-record 589 points in 2007. The Saints are on pace to score 590 points this season. So far in 2009, the Saints have scored at least 30 points on seven occasions, and they have eclipsed 45 points four times.

?I?ll tell you one thing,? Belichick said. ?It wouldn?t surprise me if the Saints set whatever records there are because I can?t think of too many teams — I can?t think of any [teams], really — that are any more explosive than this team is.?

Who’s Hot
1. Let?s just pencil in wide receiver Wes Welker at this spot for the rest of the season. He had 15 catches for 192 yards, and you can read more about his big game against the Jets here.

2. Same goes for quarterback Tom Brady, who can tie an NFL record with his sixth consecutive 300-yard passing game on Monday against the Saints. Prior to this streak, he had only thrown for 300 yards in three consecutive games once in his career.

3. Right tackle Nick Kaczur is having his best season, and he had a gutty performance against the Jets. Late in the second quarter, Jets linebacker Bart Scott bowled over Brady, who fell into Kaczur?s knee. Kaczur remained in the game throughout the drive and held his own while showing an obvious limp, and he came out strong again in the second half.

4. Call it three fair catches, Christmas in November or whatever conspiracy you can think of — as a slew of Patriots did on Sunday — but cornerback Leigh Bodden had three interceptions against New York, and that counts as a pretty good effort. Safety Brandon Meriweather is the only other Patriot with three interceptions all season. Granted, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez couldn?t find sand in the Sahara on Sunday, but credit Bodden for good positioning and hauling in the errant throws.

5. Sunday marked another powerful, dominant performance from Vince Wilfork, who mixed it up between defensive tackle and defensive end. If assists were an NFL statistic, Wilfork would be the league?s Steve Nash. He controls the line of scrimmage, typically fighting through two blockers, and that frees up rushing linebackers and defensive backs who are trying to pressure the quarterback or snuff out the running game.

Who’s Not
1. Running back Kevin Faulk was asked if he thought the Patriots put forth their most complete effort of the season on Sunday, and he quickly responded, ?You forgot about one aspect of the game, and that?s special teams. That?s a key factor, and from watching the film, I?m pretty sure Coach is going to have some corrections. We have to go over that and make sure we don?t have more corrections.?

The Patriots were without special teams captain Sam Aiken, plus another key special teams contributor, Rob Ninkovich, and as a result, they had their worst day of the season on special teams. The big blow came on a blocked punt that resulted in a Jets touchdown in the final minute of the first half, and that helped the Jets remain in the game until the fourth quarter.

Also consider:

— Stephen Gostkowski

missed a 40-yard field goal right before halftime.

Chris Hanson?s net punting average was 29.3 yards.

— The Jets punted three times, and the Patriots had -1 total punt return yards.

— And finally, the Patriots had two special teams penalties that cost them a combined 35 yards in field position.

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