ReFo: Saints @ Patriots, Week 6
To the large contingent of fans who left Gillette Stadium early, this game appeared to be over with a little more than two minutes to go. However, the Saints failed in two chances (six plays) to get a first down and kill the clock, which the Patriots followed up with a furious touchdown drive in the final minute to take the 30-27 victory.
It’s been an up and down year for Tom Brady and the Patriots, but he was as good as he’s ever been on that final drive and has his team in great position at 5-1 heading into Week 7. On the other side, there will surely be a lot of second guessing about Sean Payton’s conservative play calling late in the game, as the Saints must be sick having let this one get away. Still, the team is likewise in great shape at 5-1 with a commanding lead in the NFC South going into the bye week.
Let’s take a look at some of the standout performances in one of the most exciting games of the season.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Mixed Day for Brees
While the Patriots did a tremendous job limiting the Saints’ top receiving targets, there were still opportunities that New Orleans, and more specifically Drew Brees, failed to take advantage of. Perhaps the biggest miss came on the opening drive of the third quarter at 11:37, when Brees (-1.8) airmailed a wide open Nick Toon near the goal line. It was particularly disconcerting that the throw came from a clean pocket with no Patriot rushers even close to the QB. He didn’t face pressure often, with the Pats rush getting to him on just 11 of 38 drop backs, among the lowest Week 6 rates. Brees however, completed less than 50% of his passes – his 48.6% Accuracy Percentage was the lowest of all QBs who played Sunday. Clearly, part of that was Brees simply missing open targets (e.g. 2Q, 12:50 and 2Q, 3:39, along with the aforementioned play), but also from his receivers failing to get separation.
Still, despite his misses and a few forced throws that could have been intercepted (2Q, 4:49 and 4:41), and one that was, he still came up big when the team needed it. His late fourth quarter touchdown pass to Kenny Stills was absolutely perfect as he dropped the ball behind two Patriot defenders in the back of the end zone. If only Brees had put that kind of accuracy on display from the beginning, the Saints might not have needed a late defensive stop (which they didn’t get) to seal the game.
Graham’s Goose Egg
It might have seemed farfetched before the game to think that Jimmy Graham could be held without a catch. Especially given his blistering start to the season in which he was arguably the league’s top offensive player through five games. After watching him go against Aqib Talib, who’s had an equally ridiculous start to the season, it’s not surprising that he did so poorly. On the Saints’ second offensive play, Graham was unable to separate from Talib on a slant and was forced to (unsuccessfully) attempt a one-handed catch on the play. Later at 12:44 of the second quarter, he initially made a third down catch close to the sticks, but allowed the Patriot corner to get his hands in late and knock the ball away. Graham didn’t fare any better on his third and final target against Talib (2Q, 6:55), with close coverage forcing an errant throw from Brees.
Unfortunately Graham didn’t do anything once Talib went out either, as he failed to haul in any of the three passes against Kyle Arrington, though Brees misfired on two of them. It will be interesting to see how teams defend Graham going forward after New England’s success against him. Much of what makes him so deadly is the Saints’ ability to isolate him in coverage against overmatched linebackers and safeties. Even if they’re in relatively good position on a given play the defenders have little chance against the size and ball skills of Graham. With only five catches in 11 combined targets for the Saints other receivers, including just one catch for Marques Colston, the team’s other weapons didn’t have a huge impact. Seeing the result of this game, perhaps future opponents will opt to put their top corners on Graham and force other players to beat them. Of course, that may prove challenging with few other teams having defenders with the unique size and skills to matchup with the big TE that the Patriots have in Talib.
David Hawthorne has definitely looked more at home in Rob Ryan’s defense this season, much closer to the player we saw in Seattle when he was one of the league’s highest-graded linebackers in 2010. He struggled against New England, however, failing to make an impact in run defense or in his eight snaps as a blitzer. The bulk of his -4.9 grade came in coverage – somewhat surprising given he only surrendered two catches on five targets in single coverage. However, he had a few plays such as at 5:52 of the third quarter where he failed to bring down the receiver, and was also heavily targeted on the game’s final drive where the Patriots went at him early and often. He was beaten by Julian Edelman for 23 yards on the first play of the drive, though safety Rafael Bush was also late getting to the wide receiver. It didn’t end there, though, as Hawthorne allowed Edelman to get behind him twice more, and was fortunate that neither were caught with an underthrow and tough drop at 0:35 remaining. On the next play he was only saved by Kenny Vaccaro providing help over the top with a hit to dislodge the ball.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Brady’s Big Day
Much like Brees, Tom Brady had a couple of shaky moments over the course of the game, notably missing Danny Amendola behind the Saints defense (3Q, 10:40) and throwing a late interception to Keenan Lewis with less than three minutes remaining. However, with his defense giving him one final chance, Brady fully earned his +6.1 grade, as he drove the Patriot offense right down the field, and ended with a strike to Kenbrell Thompkins, with just enough on it to get the ball over the hands of Jabari Greer.
The final statistics weren’t pretty as he completed less than 63% of his aimed passes and ended with a 74.7 QB rating; he also completed just five of his 15 attempts over 10 yards in the air. However, he received very little help from his receivers, especially late in the game. Brady’s receivers accounted for seven drops in total, some more glaring than others, and really showed their youth as a group with a few miscommunications as well. In the end, though, they performed well enough against an improved New Orleans secondary to pull out the win.
Solder and Vollmer
The New England offensive line came in with the task of slowing down another improved unit for the Saints. At least on the outside, they performed well as tackles Nate Solder (+3.9) and Sebastian Vollmer held their own against Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan. On the left side, Galette bested Solder early (1Q, 10:59), but otherwise was held in check as the LT ended with a clean sheet in pass protection. When Galette did get to the QB it was mostly inside against Logan Mankins and some otherwise passable play at the point of attack run blocking.
Vollmer also continued his strong season (he’s now our fourth-highest graded OT) blocking primarily against Jordan, holding a player who’s been the best 3-4 DE outside of JJ Watt to his first negative grade of the season, and first game below +2.0.
Jones’ Big Play
Chandler Jones has been a mixed bag at times this season, as he graded negatively each week since his opening week performance against the Bills. In this game he was back to that form, notching four QB disruptions as a rusher and another couple of stops in run defense. He had early success against Charles Brown, beating the left tackle for consecutive first quarter hits on Drew Brees, while forcing a hold on one of those plays as well. The two largely played to a stalemate in the second and third quarters, before Jones came up big in the fourth, winning on an outside rush for a crucial sack at 13:02.
His work in the run game was solid as well, though maybe not quite as good the official scorer would have you believe with some overzealousness in crediting Jones with seven tackles, even a couple of times when he was nowhere near the play. He beat Ben Grubbs, Graham, and Jed Collins for tackles at various points in the game, but his best moment occurred at the two-minute mark of the fourth. On the play the Saints ran a naked bootleg – a play that would probably have caught a lot of teams off guard – but Jones read it perfectly and dropped Drew Brees for a five yard loss, forcing the punt and giving his offense one more shot.
– Aqib Talib’s grade of +0.8 doesn’t quite do justice to the performance he had against Jimmy Graham in his 36 snaps, two missed tackles on passes to Darren Sproles pulling his grade down.
– In his first action since suffering an injury early in Week 1, Brodrick Bunkley logged seven snaps for the Saints with a -0.2 grade.
– Drew Brees averaged a time to throw of 3.01 seconds, while Tom Brady averaged 2.59. This is indicative of slightly better pass protection for Brees, but also the inability to find open receivers against the Patriot secondary, forcing him to hold the ball longer.
PFF Game Ball
Tom Brady looked shaky at times in this game, but he came up huge when it counted, going 70 yards in just over 70 seconds with no timeouts, a drive that culminated in the game winning touchdown.
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