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New England Patriots

For Patriots fans who were decrying the team’s offensive effort last week against the Jets, brace yourself for the Saints’ numbers in Week 2 against the Panthers. After putting up 38 points in their opener, New Orleans took a major step backwards last week totaling just 128 total yards and a flat three yards per play in a 26-7 loss.

New England’s numbers weren’t exactly gaudy either with 260 total yards. Granted, some of that was due to multiple short fields set up by four Jets turnovers, but players and coaches alike have spoken about the lack of big plays this week.

“There’s definitely times when I watch the film and I wish I threw the ball down the field more,” rookie quarterback Mac Jones said on Wednesday. “You want to be able to test those areas of the field as we go forward, but I also want [Mac Jones] to make smart decisions, I want him to protect the football, and I want him to be aggressive when there are times to be aggressive,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels added.

At the same time, the Patriots coaching staff recognizes that the offense on the other side has the ability to hit big plays, and the Saints will be looking to jump start themselves after last week’s loss and dismal offensive performance.

“It’s really hard to predict what Sean [Payton] is going to do, and they have a huge playbook. They have a lot to choose from,” Belichick explained. “You can’t prepare for it all, and then you’ve got to be careful of the things that hurt you that they’ll come back and get you with. There’s also a lot of things the Saints do well that are hard to stop, and he has good compliments to all the plays, so if you stop one thing, he’s got something else to go to. It’s hard to stop both of them, so between all of what he has and exposing the defense’s weaknesses from week to week, that’s why they’ve led the league in offense for the last 15 years.”

With both teams likely hunting for big plays on Sunday, who are the players to keep an eye on? Let’s take a closer look in this week’s key matchups.

  • When New England has the ball: Nelson Agholor vs. Marshon Lattimore

    As will be the case with all of this week’s key matchups, this one starts with a disclaimer. Marshon Lattimore is questionable for the Saints, having undergone minor thumb surgery last week. He was able to practice on Wednesday however, an encouraging sign he’ll be ready for the game.

    Whether it’s Lattimore or a replacement, odds are Nelson Agholor will be working against the Saints’ top corner. The 28-year-old leads the team’s receivers in yards, and has caught the lone passing touchdown of the season. Yet to this point, he hasn’t been featured as the deep threat many expected him to be when the Patriots signed him in the spring.

    If Jones and the Patriots offense truly do want to throw the ball down the field more, Agholor is the most logical target. Don’t be surprised if McDaniels draws up a play or two for him on Sunday, but of course he has to do his part and get open as well.

  • When New Orleans has the ball: Alvin Kamara vs. Everybody

    It’s not easy to settle on a single one-on-one matchup for Alvin Kamara. Davon Godchaux at the point of attack? Ja’Whaun Bentley at the second level? Adrian Phillips in coverage?

    At a certain point, it would almost be easier to list the defensive players who won’t be counted on to contain Kamara. And the reality is, that list might be blank. Especially with Kamara looking to bounce back from a five-yard, eight carry performance against Carolina.

    “He does everything well. Very good in the passing game. His production has been phenomenal,” Belichick said when asked about Kamara on Wednesday. “59 touchdowns or whatever it is, and you know, his yards from scrimmage he’s been at the very top since he’s been in the league. He’s got good speed, quickness. He’s tough to tackle. Good vision. Versatile guy. Get him the ball a lot of different ways, and they do, and he produces with it. He’s a guy you got to keep your eye on at all times. He plays on all three downs, so he’s always in there.”

    Kamara is far and away the Saints best option on offense, especially with Michael Thomas on IR. He leads the team in touches with 35 through two games, while only one other player (Tony Jones, 15) has more than 10.

    Yet even with that imbalance, it’s not as simple as sending everybody at Kamara to try and stop him. He’s good enough that he can still make plays when everybody on the other side knows he’s getting the ball. It will take a true 11-man effort to contain him both against the run and pass.

  • Bonus: Trent Brown vs. Cameron Jordan

    Trent Brown has been back at practice this week after missing last week’s game with a calf injury. Although he’s been limited, things seem to be trending towards him playing on Sunday.

    Brown will be welcomed back to the field by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is in his 11th year in the league. Jordan currently ranks sixth among active players with 94.5 career sacks.

    Jordan can be effective beyond the passing game too. He’s the veteran leader of a defensive front that’s allowed just 66 rushing yards per game – the third fewest in the NFL through two weeks. The Patriots will likely want to run behind Brown when he returns, as we saw them do in Week 1 before he got hurt. So whether its the run game or pass game, Brown’s ability to move Jordan will be crucial.

    Right tackle has been a bit of a juggling act for the Patriots through two games, and Justin Herron and Yasir Durant have traded snaps and struggled at times filling in for Brown. Brown’s return is expected to add some stability up front, but he’ll be faced with an immediate test in Jordan.