It’s Week 2, and we’re back again with the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit answers 5 quick questions about the upcoming matchup between the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Saints:
Brandin Cooks had a so-so game in his Patriots debut against the Kansas City Chiefs, but how do you expect Bill Belichick to feature Cooks in his return to New Orleans?
Cooks was actually the only receiver to really show up against the Chiefs. While his statline (3 catches, 88 yards) was solid, but not spectacular, he also contributed by drawing a lot of penalties. He drew two defensive pass interference flags in the end zone to set the Patriots up on the goal line (and gained 38 yards of field position), he also drew two additional defensive holding calls, with one of those giving the team a fresh set of downs on the goal line. All three of those goal line penalties led to touchdowns. So maybe he wasn’t a 7 catch, 150 yard, 2 touchdown type of player, but he definitely had an excellent impact in his first game.
The Patriots use Cooks as an outside receiver and let him try to win on the sidelines. I actually think they need to use him on crossing patterns more, like the Saints did, to give him the ball and force people to miss. With Danny Amendola possibly missing the game, they might be forced to open up their playbook with Cooks. I think you’ll see Cooks targeted on three or four passes 30+ yards down the field, and then a few more times by the sticks and maybe on a screen or two.
In addition to Cooks, there’s another player in this game that was almost playing for the other team, and that's Malcolm Butler. We all saw Alex Smith's stat line for the game last week, but how much of that falls on Butler's shoulders?
Depending on who you ask, Butler allowed either four or six completions on the day and commited a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone. He did a good job of preventing yards after the catch and that looked to be the Patriots defensive game plan against the Chiefs- keep the opposing receivers in front and tackle them as soon as possible. Butler might’ve been the only defensive back to carry out his role perfectly since Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty both let receivers get behind them at times.
In other words, whatever Butler gave up is more likely to be attributed to schematic decisions by the coaches than to poor play by Butler (other than the penalty).
Which of the Patriots' fifteen RBs should the Saints be worried about the most this game?
All of them? None of them? The fact that Vikings RB Dalvin Cook had such a strong performance against the Saints, in addition to Tom Brady’s accuracy problems against the Chiefs, leads me believe that the Patriots will give the ball early and often to Mike Gillislee and, depending on how the game plays out, eventually transition to James White or Rex Burkhead or Dion Lewis when they feel comfortable that the Saints defense is softened.
Which player that Saints fans might not have heard of do you expect to make a big impact on the game?
Look out for the Patriots interior line. Left guard Joe Thuney is a sophomore, while right guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews are entering their third seasons. They are all ascending players, with Mason having a real chance to become one of the best right guards in the league. The Patriots will ask them to lead the way for Gillislee on a lot of plays and they’re all capable in pass protection.
Despite being a little smaller than most guards, Mason is incredibly athletic and is a lot of fun to watch on pull blocks.
Predictions for the game? Final score?
I think the Patriots need a strong rebound game after their ugly performance against the Chiefs. I’m a little concerned that the Patriots defense might struggle against Drew Brees and the Saints potent offense, but I think the Patriots will be better equipped to move the ball against the Saints than they were against the Chiefs. I predict a Patriots victory in a high-scoring 34-31 game.
Thank-you, Rich, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Rich and the work his guys are doing over at Pats Pulpit. You can follow them on Twitter @PatsPulpit, and you can follow Rich on Twitter @PP_Rich_Hill.