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Saints vs. Patriots 2013: Scouting the Enemy

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In anticipation of the Saints' matchup against the Patriots in Gillette Stadium, I caught up with SB Nation's resident Patriots expert, Greg Knopping, from Pats Pulpit to get his inside perspective on the Saints' upcoming opponent.

Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Dave Cariello: So... Aaron Hernandez, huh? Are Patriots fans still talking about his arrest and trial or have you guys already put it behind you?

Greg Knopping: Well, I would say that Patriots fans are doing their best to put the situation behind them, similar to the team. He's no longer a Patriot, although most won't see it that way. He'll be associated with being a Patriot for football eternity, which means that as hard as everyone tries to put the situation behind him, there is no avoiding it completely.

***

Dave: Is there a lot of disappointment about Brady's consecutive touchdown streak ending just short of the record?

Greg: Not really. I'd say there is more dissapointment that the Patriots couldn't win the game last Sunday against the Bengals. The Patriots aren't really the type of team where it's entertaining to see them chase and break records, as they rarely acknowledge it. We saw a lot of records fall the last six seasons in New England. Unfortunately, none of those records resulted in championships, and at least in this era, that's what matters. Tom Brady is a competitive guy, and I'm sure he wanted the streak. I also think there were a fair share of fan disappointment he didn't get it. It's a remarkable record. But under this Bill Belichick regime, you won't be hearing anything about it. Maybe sometime down the line, when there's a new coach and new quarterback in New England, records will matter once again. But for now, whether or not the fans like it, it's all about the wins (or lack thereof).

***

Dave: The Pats offense has been struggling a little this season. Why?

Greg: Struggling a little? Those are some kind words. To tell you the truth, I just do not know. The Patriots lost some key playmakers this off-season - Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd. Losing three threats such as the aforementioned is going to hurt, no matter who the quarterback is. The Patriots have also been hit with the injury bug. They lost Shane Vereen week one, Danny Amendola has only played two games, Stevan Ridley missed last week, and players such as Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Brandon Bolden are all banged up. And of course, their best offensive threat, Rob Gronkowski, has yet to play this season. Nonetheless, no matter the personnel he's throwing to, you would expect Tom Brady - Josh McDaniels offense to be more effective. So I'm not sure there is a single reason. The pass protection hasn't been great. The Patriots haven't been strong enough running the ball to set up the play-action. Tom Brady hasn't been as flawless as usual. It's just tough to pinpoint the struggles on any particular reason. They still have time to turn it around, but the Patriots might just have to face the fact that the offense isn't what is used to be.

***

Dave: Everyone has been talking about Gronkowski returning this week. How effective do you think he'll REALLY be in his first game back?

Greg: He'd be effective. He'd immediately become the number one receiver. He already has six weeks of practice under his belt. I do think he'd make a difference, although I don't think he'd be the magic band-aid for the offense. That being said, it's still a big question mark whether or not Gronkowski does indeed return. There's a lot of concern surrounding his situation despite recent reports.

***

Dave: Tell me about a Patriots player that Saints fans probably don't know about but might have an impact on the game Monday.

Greg: I'm not sure if he'll play this week - but the rookie linebacker Jamie Collins. The second round pick out of Southern Miss hasn't played a ton this year, but he is freakishly athletic (actually played some safety in college) and has slowly seen his playing time increase each week of the season. He could be a wrinkle in Bill Belichick's plan to slow Jimmy Graham.

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