Welcome in to today's second round of questions and answers with a blogger representing the opposing team. This time around I've wandered off the reservation and talked with Bruce Allen of Patriots Daily. Patriots Daily is a very classy, very respectable football blog, especially considering it's not part of the SB Nation family. I highly recommend a look.
Below you'll find Bruce's take on the Patriots, the Saints and their meeting tonight as he answers five of my questions. You might actually be surprised by his prediction for tonights game. Read on...
CSC: Are you surprised that David Thomas has found success here in New Orleans' offense? What do you remember from his days in New England?
PD: I'm not really surprised, no. When the Patriots traded him to the Saints in the preseason, I thought that he was going to the ideal situation for him. Thomas could always catch the ball. The reason the Patriots finally moved on from him was mainly his inability to stay on the field. He was always getting hurt. In addition,though he made some improvements, especially last year, he's wasn't known as a great blocker, and the Patriots are big on having their tight ends be able to block in both the running game and pass protection. In fact, it might be the first thing they look for in a tight end. Thomas made a few big plays catchng the ball and running with it after the catch the last few years but he also made a few dumb penalties, which probably didn't endear him to the coaching staff. But his talent as a receiving tight end is undeniable.
CSC: Has Tom Brady completely returned to his old form? Did last years injury take anything out of him at all?
PD: I'd say he's about 95% there. He definitely strugged in the early going this year, both with his throws and his movement in the pocket. He missed several wide open TD opportunities simply by overthrowing his target. He also had some issues with receivers early in the season, as Wes Welker missed a couple of games and Joey Galloway just never got it. Here and there he has still missed on a random throw which he so seldom did in the past. I expect those missed opportunities to continue to dwindle as time goes on.
CSC: The Patriots are so strong in so many areas. What is the Patriots weakest aspect? What is their Kryptonite?
PD: They may not be as strong as you're giving them credit for. This is a team with some areas that definitely need improvement if they are to be considered a true Super Bowl contender. They haven't been able to get their running game going. Injuries to Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris have contributed to that for sure, but they still need to do better. On defense, this is a a pretty young group in the linebacker and secondary units that is still learning how to play together and to trust each other. They're looking for that "statement game" against a good offense. They've had some issues making tackles here and there - Denver shredded them with a short passing game - and the Patriots whiffed on way too many tackles in that game. At cornerback, Jonathan Wilhite can be picked on a bit - Reggie Wayne pretty much had his way with him a couple weeks ago - even though Wilhite was in good position much of the time. There are definitely some holes here which need to be tightened up in the coming weeks but especially for this game.
CSC: We all know about Brady, Moss, Welker etc. but what can the Saints expect from the Patriots running attack?
PD: Well, as mentioned above, this has been something of a weak area for the Patriots. Laurence Maroney has been a target of Patriots fans because of his inconsistent play. A former first round draft pick, he has been mostly disappointing thus far, though he has shown even flashes of ability to keep himself on the field. Down the stretch in 2007, he was terrific. He's had a couple of good game thus far this season. But he also got tackled for losses more than he should, and has a tendency to "dance" before hitting the holes. Kevin Faulk, as usual, has been great for the Patriots. Not only on third down because with all the injuries, he's been carrying occasionally on first and second down as well, and has produced. Faulk is known more as a pass-catcher, especially on screen plays, but he's done more than that this season. It's possible Sammy Morris might return for this game, though I'm not counting on it. He would be a big lift to the offense.
CSC: Name a player on the Patriots that most Saints fans haven't heard of but will know after Monday night?
PD: I'll give you a three-pack of rookies to keep an eye on. Defensive lineman Myron Pryor, a late-round pick, has been part of the D-line mix all season and has shown some good burst in getting to the passer. With the need to get pressure on Brees, he could be a factor. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer has filled in for Matt Light the last several games protecting Brady's blind side and has been great, just manhandling anyone in his path. He made Dwight Freeney disappear in the Colts game...something that never happens. Finally, cornerback Darius Butler has shown a nose for the ball, and has perhaps the best speed on the team. He could be a factor in this game.
CSC: Care to make a prediction?
PD: I wish I had some bravado I could throw at you and the Saints fans here, but I don't. The Patriots have yet to win a real road game this season, and this is going to be a tough environment to pick up the first. The defense isn't all the way there yet and the running game is a bit suspect. I'm going to have to go: Saints 31, Patriots 24.