New Orleans Saints beat Houston Texans 34-27
The New Orleans Saints managed to beat the Houston Texans 34-27 Saturday night in what is widely regarded as the most important preseason game of the exhibition season. But the Saints still are a ways from being regular-season ready.
Playing before 72,082 fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints were at times pleasantly brilliant and, at other moments, redundantly confounding.
They'll have two weeks before their Sept. 9 season-opener against the Washington Redskins to address the turnover issue that plagued them in the first half, their offensive third-down execution and the continued coverage busts in their defensive secondary.
With time running out on the practice portion of the schedule, the Saints (2-2) appear to have several glaring areas in need of improvement.
"We had a good week of practice," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "Our guys were very focused. They wanted to get better from a week ago. I thought we improved tonight. We improved on our tackling.
"We had much better poise on the field than we had a week ago against Jacksonville with the younger kids when they were in there. We got to be able to protect the ball better. Our team knows that. And we would still like to take the ball away a couple more times. If we do that it's going to give us the chance to be the football team we want to become."
Playing against the reigning AFC South champions, the Saints also showed their offense remains as potent as it was a year ago when it led the NFL in total offense.
Despite turning the ball over two times in the first half, the offense still was able to score 24 first-half points.
Quarterback Drew Brees completed 17 of 25 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Chris Ivory, whose fumble in the first quarter was the Saints' first turnover, rushed eight times for 57 yards. And tight end Jimmy Graham caught three passes for 48 yards and a score.
"I feel we have been sharp," Bress said. "We could have been better in some ways. We have very high expectations for this team. We want to continue to test the limit."
The Saints' defense, limited the Texans to just 1-of-9 on third down and sacked their quarterbacks six times.
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
Still the Saints, who scored the winning points on a 4-yard touchdown catch by Joseph Morgan from Chase Daniel with 3:38 remaining, are aware that improvement is needed.
They entered the game hoping to show improvement in several key areas:
-- Tackling: The Saints struggled mightily in this facet of the game in last week's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although they still missed a couple of tackles, the Saints' defenders showed marked improvement.
-- Third-down efficiency: Throughout the preseason, the Saints' first-team offense, in limited duty, had performed below their standards on third down. Even with their regulars playing throughout the first half against the Texans, the offense still showed that it needs to improve in third-down efficiency. In the first half, the Saints converted just two-of-six third-down opportunities. They also failed on their lone fourth-down try, as Brees' pass attempt on a fourth-and 3 at the Houston 21 to Travaris Cadet fell incomplete.
-- Coaching communication: This was the first game in the collaborative decision-making process under newly named interim coach Aaron Kromer. While there were no major noticeable breakdowns in communication, it did appear that Vitt, who will begin serving a six-game suspension at the start of the regular season, handled most of the major head coaching duties.
But for all the miscues and sloppiness, the game was entertaining.
All three phases of the Saints' team displayed play-making ability in the first half, as the Saints played the Texans to a 24-24 halftime tie.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown, was able to locate and exploit holes in the Saints' secondary.
On Houston's first drive, he set up Ben Tate's 1-yard touchdown run that put the Texans ahead 7-0 by connecting with tight end Garrett Graham for a 26-yard pass. Graham took advantage of an apparent mix up in the Saints' secondary between free safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Johnny Patrick.
After a fumble by Saints running back Chris Ivory, who has struggled throughout training camp with ball security, the Texans again caught the Saints' defensive backs confused and completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Keshawn Martin.
But the Saints were able to chip away at the lead, closing to within 14-7 on a 20-yard scoring pass from Brees to Lance Moore, who beat Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson for the touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Texans kick returner Trindon Holliday, who played collegiately at LSU, was stripped by New Orleans backup safety Isa Abdul-Quddus at the Houston 16 and the Saints' Junior Galette picked up the fumble and scampered into the end zone for a touchdown, pulling the game into a 14-14 tie.
The Saints took their first lead after the defense came up with its first big play. With the Texans facing a third-and-12 at the Saints' 28, Schaub completed a short pass to Martin, but Jenkins was able to jar the ball loose and the Saints' Sedrick Ellis recovered.
Following the turnover, the Saints drove 70 yards in 10 plays but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal, putting them ahead 17-14 with 11:24 left in the first half.
The Texans used an Arian Foster 6-yard touchdown run and a 33-yard field goal by Randy Bullock to regain the lead then push the margin to 24-17 with 2:08 remaining in the half.
That was just enough time for the Saints' first-team offense to get some work on its two-minute offense before the start of the regular season.
And already it appears to be in midseason form.
Brees guided the Saints on a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive that was capped when Brees sidestepped pressure and connected with Graham on an 8-yard touchdown that tied the score at 24 with 15 seconds remaining in the half.
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