FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from first-half review of the Patriots’ 30-27 win over the Saints:
1. Receiver Aaron Dobson’s height (6-foot-3) was tapped inside the red zone, which was a change from the previous week when he wasn’t on the field for the team’s lone trip inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Early in the second quarter, Dobson drew a pass interference penalty on Keenan Lewis in the right-hand corner of the end zone, with quarterback Tom Brady giving him a chance to make a play one-on-one with an arcing throw from the 7-yard line. Dobson is the Patriots’ tallest receiver, and has good leaping ability, so it makes sense to have him on the field when the space gets tight. This was a noticeable adjustment by coordinator Josh McDaniels this week.
2. The Saints’ screen game is arguably the best in the NFL, and they hurt the Patriots at times. But early in the second quarter, rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano showed nice instincts to sniff out a screen to Darren Sproles as quarterback Drew Brees was forced to fire it incomplete (12:55 remaining). Coach Bill Belichick mentioned that play by Vellano on Monday morning in his weekly day-after-game conference call, in the context of the Patriots doing a better job defending the screen as the game progressed. Defensive tackle Chris Jones made another nice play on a screen on the next drive.
3. More of a random observation than an X’s and O’s: In addition to his speed, physicality, ball skills and athleticism, cornerback Aqib Talib brings a little something else to the table -- an attitude. He reminds me a little bit of Rodney Harrison in that regard, which came to mind after watching him break up a pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with 12:44 remaining in the second quarter and then stepping over Graham to punctuate the effort. Talib seems to play through the whistle, and trash talks through it at times, too.
4. When he runs like he did on Sunday, Stevan Ridley is the Patriots’ clear-cut best option at running back. Ridley's decisiveness and quickness in hitting the hole is noticeably different from LeGarrette Blount, who seems to take a bit longer to get up to top speed (but when he does, he's dangerous, as we saw in Atlanta). On Ridley's 19-yard run at the end of the second quarter, his longest of the day, it was another example of pulling left guard Logan Mankins paving the way as he got enough of linebacker Curtis Lofton to create open space for Ridley, who used a left-handed stiff-arm to keep Lofton at bay. The feeling here is that Ridley has been strong in his past three performances, but finally got some reward on the stat sheet Sunday as a few long runs (19, 18) upped his overall numbers (96 yards, 20 carries, 2 TDs).
5. The fourth-and-1 false start penalty against the Saints, who had their offense on the field and not the punt unit, looked like it should have been a neutral zone infraction against the Patriots. Vellano jumped into the neutral zone and was touched by right guard Jahri Evans almost immediately. That’s exactly how we think the Patriots would coach their offensive linemen, and from this view, it looked like referee Tony Corrente’s crew just missed it. That's a big swing because it would have extended the Saints' drive with 2:03 remaining in the second quarter, potentially setting them up for a "double score" opportunity -- points at the end of the second quarter and at the start of the third quarter.
6. One of the themes with the Patriots is that they view victories the same way as defeats, often focusing on the negative aspects of their performance as part of a hard-driving approach that focuses on constant improvement. One area that figures to be looked at closely this week: Negative runs. They had three of them in the first half, in addition to another rush for no gain. The Saints get some credit for that, too. Also, the way Saints coordinator Rob Ryan mixed his calls was reflected in how Tom Brady was sacked four times in the first half -- some coverage calls rushing just three, and some overload blitzes. It's a fun scheme to watch.