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SmashMouth 08-26-2012 10:26 AM

Lasting impression from New Orleans Saints win is big plays defense gave up
 
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By preseason standards, the New Orleans Saints' 34-27 victory over the Houston Texans on Saturday night was a thriller. Tons of offense. A lot of standing up and getting crunk inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Even some big plays by the defense and special teams units.
Without question, though, the lasting impression from this game will be all those big plays the Saints' first-string defense gave up early in the game.
So this week's postgame installment of First-and-10 will start there.

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FIRST TAKE:

If you're a glass-is-half-full type, you can spend the next two weeks reminding yourself that this was only a preseason game. And that the Saints were missing three of their top defensive starters because of injuries (cornerback Jabari Greer and linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne). And that things got better in the second quarter, when defensive end Cameron Jordan started making big plays behind the line of scrimmage and defensive backs Corey White and Malcolm Jenkins forced game-changing fumbles. And the tackling actually improved once the Saints defenders got to the ball.

If you're the glass-is-half-empty type, however, you still can't shake the way Houston cruised down the field so often, with the Saints getting very little pressure on quarterback Matt Schaub as he stood back in the pocket and repeatedly picked apart New Orleans' zone defense. The defense also allowed the Texans to open a few gaping holes in the run game (though, to be fair, the Texans do that to every team in the NFL with their combination of a great blocking scheme and two outstanding tailbacks).

If you're a realist, then you've come to terms with the idea that the defense will be up-and-down this season. A lot like it was during the Gregg Williams era, even though the schemes have changed significantly.

The Saints will struggle at times against dynamic offenses like the Texans and the Green Bay Packers, etc. And they won't have one of the league's most disruptive pass rushes, especially if end Will Smith serves his four-game suspension to start the year.

But they should absolutely force more turnovers and make more big plays than they did the last two years, with new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme giving both the defensive linemen and the secondary more opportunities to attack.

Jenkins and cornerback Patrick Robinson in particular have made a lot of aggressive plays this preseason while running downhill toward plays in zone coverage. And cornerback Jabari Greer should do much of the same when he returns from sports hernia surgery.

The Saints do have a lot of talent on their defense, so they should be better than average. Probably not a top-10 unit, but certainly not a bottom-10 unit.

And for those glass-is-half-full types, one more thing to get excited about: The Saints won't have to face the Texans' offense again this season unless they meet right back here in the Superdome for Super Bowl XLVII.

TEN MORE IMPRESSIONS:


New Orleans Saints offense looks ready for the real thing: video
Times-Picayune writers Larry Holder and Mike Triplett break down the Saints' offensive performance after their 34-27 preseason victory over the Houston Texans
Watch video
1. Chris Ivory should and will make the Saints' 53-man roster, despite his costly first quarter fumble. He spent the rest of Saturday's game showing what a unique and special runner he is.
One of his best runs came before that fumble, when he burst up the middle for an 11-yard gain on third-and-1 before getting clobbered in the back of the head at an awkward angle to knock the ball loose. But the 6-foot-2, 222-pounder doesn't just have punishing power. He also has elusiveness, which he showed when he sidestepped two defenders on back-to-back cutbacks to start a 20-yard gain in the third quarter. And he is especially hard to bring down once he hits the second level of the defense.

Ivory has a proven track record, with four games of 99 yards rushing or more in just 18 career games played. But he does have a troubling history of nagging injuries. And he's been fumbling the ball way too much this training camp.

It seems unlikely the Saints will trade Ivory because trades are so rare, and those question marks would hurt his value. The bigger question now is whether the Saints will keep undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet as a fifth running back. Cadet has a unique skill set as well, with great receiving ability out of the backfield, so he'd be hard to let go. But Ivory would be even harder to let go.

2. Receiver Joe Morgan might be in more jeopardy after his second-quarter fumble. Again, it wasn't an egregious error, since he was being gang-tackled and the play probably should have been whistled dead. But Morgan is trying to dig himself out of a hole after some issues with dropped passes earlier this month, and this game went the wrong way for him.

3. Here's my best fantasy football advice when it comes to the Saints: Receiver Lance Moore will be the biggest beneficiary after former Saints receiver Robert Meachem left in free agency. Moore continued a great summer with two big grabs on the Saints' first touchdown drive Saturday night - including a 20-yard touchdown catch despite a pass interference call against the Texans.

4. Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has been outstanding this summer, highlighted by another pass deflection and a sack on the same series in the second half. When the Saints drafted Hicks in the third round out of the University of Regina in Canada, he seemed like a raw developmental project. But now he already looks like their No. 3 defensive tackle.

5. Hicks hasn't been the most impressive rookie in camp, though. That honor belongs to cornerback White, a fifth-round pick. White's forced fumble in the second quarter showed great awareness, and he continued to display a very aggressive style. He's both fast and physical and looks cemented as the No. 4 cornerback with a chance to move higher on the depth chart.

6. I won't pile on the replacement refs too much. But they definitely stole a touchdown away from the Saints in the second quarter when tight end Jimmy Graham was mugged in the end zone by linebacker Bradie James and no flag was thrown. It would have been an even bigger night for the Saints' offense is they had thrown seven more points on the board.

7 Brees' TD pass to Graham just before halftime was sensational - the way he stepped up to avoid the rush and fired the ball into a tight window. And he'll probably sleep a little easier because of it over the next two weeks. But no matter what happened in these exhibition games, there has never been any doubt here that the Saints will be ready to roll up 30 or 40 points over the Washington Redskins in the regular-season opener here in two weeks.

8. If you didn't have safety Isa Abdul-Quddus' name written in ink on your projected 53-man roster, then his forced fumble on a first-quarter kickoff return should solve that.

9. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley had a chance to cement his spot on the roster with a 53-yard field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter. But he didn't hit it solid. He's still the front-runner to win that job over John Kasay, though.

10. Worth repeating: "Listen, this is a good offense we played tonight," Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. "I think the best play-caller in the game right now is Sean Payton. (Texans coach) Gary Kubiak isn't far behind."

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CharityMike 08-26-2012 10:34 AM

Re: Lasting impression from New Orleans Saints win is big plays defense gave up
 
"And they won't have one of the league's most disruptive pass rushes, especially if end Will Smith serves his four-game suspension to start the year."

What?

blackangold 08-26-2012 01:00 PM

Re: Lasting impression from New Orleans Saints win is big plays defense gave up
 
Yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and leave the rose colored glasses on then. Considering the Saints have had all of 2 months to install what has been called the most complicated defense in the modern era. Or, maybe the pro-bowl LBs we picked up will actually have an impact on the field, hmm. Hell, maybe having our best (and arguably best in the NFC) CB on the field will help a little bit...lol

Lets all forget about losing Smith for 4-games. Face it Saints fans Smith is not the best DE on the team. our pass rush was at its best when Smith was suspended last year. Smith is good at stopping the run but he is our 3rd best DE at getting to the QB.

Fail of an article in my opinion. Saints D will be fine when the starters are ready to go.


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