The consensus this week is that the Patriots can't blitz Drew Brees -- and the statistics bear that out. The Patriots can't sit back and let Brees stand in the pocket, either -- and the statistics bear that out, too.
"He's on fire right now," outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said, "and if you don't have any water to put it out, he's going to keep burning you up."
Check out the Brees profile on ProFootballFocus.com:
* When Brees isn't pressured, he has a completion percentage of 74.6 and a quarterback rating of 115.7;
* When Brees is blitzed, he has a completion percentage of 64.8 and a quarterback rating of 87.6;
* When Brees is under pressure, he has a completion percentage of 45.8 and a quarterback rating of 71.7.
Translation: If the Patriots send corners or safeties on blitzes, Brees is going to burn them. But if they can get pressure on Brees with just four (or maybe five) pass-rushers, they're going to have a chance to force some bad throws.
"He makes quick decisions," Banta-Cain said. "He's got a quick release, so it's very tough and frustrating for a lot of defense because you can get to him and he's still getting the ball off. ...
"It's just a 'Hope for the best' type of thing. You can't say, 'Well, we don't want to blitz him' because now you're allowing him more time to get the ball off. It's just one of those things where you've got to execute at a high level -- and if there's a mistake somewhere in their front five, we take advantage of it."
The best way to do that will be by attacking left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, the two weak links on the Saints' offense line.
That's why Banta-Cain and Adalius Thomas are such keys for the Patriots. Banta-Cain had two sacks against the Jets and the all-but-dismissed Thomas played perhaps his best game of the season. Here's Thursday's Union Leader story for more on why the two linebackers are so key to the Patriots' game plan against Brees:
Thanksgiving came a few days early for Adalius Thomas this week.
“Certain games, you have good games – as we call it, you eat more than you do in other games,” the Pro Bowl linebacker said on Sunday.
Thomas, heading into last weekend, had been one of the Patriots’ biggest disappointments of the season. Inactive against Tennessee in Week 6, Thomas had just one tackle against Tampa Bay in Week 7 and didn’t do much in Week 10 in Indianapolis even after injuries to Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich.
He hadn’t, as they’d say, eaten all that much.
But Thomas feasted against the New York Jets on Sunday, finishing with a hit on the quarterback and a tackle for a loss in what might have been his best game in an otherwise disappointing season.
And with Thomas looking like he’s turned a corner, the Patriots’ corps of linebackers might be as solid as it has been all year. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo is healthy and making plays, Gary Guyton is growing into his role in the middle of the defense, and Banta-Cain has surprised almost everyone by growing into the Patriots’ best pass-rushing threat.
Highlights for Thomas, though, had been few and far between – until Sunday:
* With the Patriots leading 14-0, Thomas dropped running back Shonn Greene at the line of scrimmage for a one-yard gain on first down, and he drilled quarterback Mark Sanchez to force an incomplete pass on second down. The Patriots then forced an incompleted pass on third-and-9, and the Jets punted;
* After the Patriots extended their lead to 24-0, Thomas got in front of running back Thomas Jones as he tried to get around the edge – and when Jones cut back to the middle, nose tackle Vince Wilfork buried him;
* Two plays later, with wide receiver Brad Smith lined up behind center in the Jets’ version of the Wildcat, Thomas not only got in the face of Smith to force him to pitch the ball but also was in on the tackle of Greene four yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“I certainly made more plays today than I have in the past,” Thomas said on Sunday.
The re-emergence of Thomas couldn’t come at a better time. Most teams don’t blitz New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees because he’s so good at picking out weaknesses in the secondary. If Thomas and Banta-Cain, the Patriots’ primary pass-rushers, can do their jobs without any extra help, the Patriots can put pressure on him without exposing themselves elsewhere.
“He pretty much can pick up a defense and pick out the weak points and the strong points of every defense before the play is even snapped,” safety Brandon Meriweather said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
The better the Patriots’ linebackers can do their jobs, particularly in terms of pressuring Brees without blitzing, the better the chance the Patriots will have of slowing down the Saints’ high-powered offense. Two different running backs have at least 100 carries and 500 rushing yards this season, and three different receivers have at least 30 receptions and 450 receiving yards. That doesn’t even include Reggie Bush, a multifaceted threat who has 277 rushing yards and 207 receiving yards so far this season – and who drew a Marshall Faulk comparison from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“You’ve got to be careful of them matching up,” Belichick said. “They definitely put a lot of pressure on you on that. If you match up with them, you’ve got to do a good job with it. They don’t make it easy for you. And it’s not just getting the right people on the field, but then it’s also finding them because you don’t know where they are going to be. They mix that up a lot, too. They do a good job ‘formation-ing,’ even the normal formation that looks the same. They vary the receiver splits, they move the tight end around, so the same formation can look different on 10 different plays, it really can.”
The more complicated the offense, in many ways, the simpler the defense must be. The Patriots didn’t play well within their simplified defense in a loss at Denver – but, then again, the loss at Denver might have been the worst game Thomas has played since he joined the Patriots.
If the Pro Bowl linebacker can play against the Saints the way he played against the Jets, the Patriots might just do what they couldn’t do in Denver in Week 5 – or, for that matter, in Indianapolis in Week 10 or in New York in Week 2. They might just win.