It is time for a full on dress rehearsal tonight inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when the New Orleans Saints host the Houston Texans. Historically the third preseason game is usually when teams play it like a regular season game with their game week preparations and play their starters into the third quarter. With the regular season set to open in two weekends, this will be the last significant action many of the starters will see until September 9.
Houston has looked pretty good in their two wins this preseason. The Texans were 18th in the league in passing last season but first overall on the ground. Quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 2,479 yards in 2011 to go with 15 interceptions in only 10 games. Running back Arian Foster rushed for 1,224 yards to go with 10 touchdowns in the 13 games he played last season.
Why give you those stats? Well its help make a point that the Saints defense will be tested Saturday night.
In fact, the Saints offense will be tested as well as the Texans had the NFL’s second best defense last season. This offseason 2006 first-overall pick defensive end Mario Williams signed a six-year deal with Buffalo. Still despite his loss in free agency some people like CBSSports dot com’s Pete Prisco feel the Texans defense could be better without him and better overall this season.
So as far as dress rehearsals go the Saints can’t find a better test to see where the 2012 team is currently at. The Texans are on the league’s best teams. The Saints are as well and that’s just the players going at it on the field for as we know this has been a busy week for the Saints. Injuries at the linebacker position will not make things easier for the Saints defense. Also Aaron Kromer will begin the process of being broken in as the head coach as he will be side by side with Joe Vitt for these final two preseason games learning the ropes. Kromer will take over as head coach while Vitt serves his six game suspension at the start of the season.
DO YOU REMEMBER
The Saints and Texans last season put up an old fashioned shoot out on September 25. Houston led 16-10 at the half and put up 21 more points in the second half. Drew Brees and the Saints offense however put up 30 points with 23 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Houston’s Matt Schaub and Brees flung it all over the Superdome field combining for 743 yards. Schaub was 22 of 39 for 373. Brees went 31 of 44 for 370 yards. Each quarterback tossed three touchdowns on the day.
Wide Receiver Andrew Johnson had seven catches for 128 yards to lead the Texans in receiving. Tight end Jimmy Graham led the Saints with four grabs for 100 yards and a touchdown. Houston running back Arian Foster did not play in the game due to injury.
The Texans finished 10 and 6 last season winning the AFC South and playing in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Saints offense vs Texans defense.
Houston features a 3-4 defensive look (3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers) and it is a defense that in the past has given Drew Brees and the Saints offense fits. Brees and the Saints offense will be looking to fine tune that offensive machine we’ve come to love. This preseason we've seen a glimpse of solid offense but it’s been far from consistent.
Brees and the first string offense had a fantastic opening series against the Cardinals to open the preseason. The drive went 77 yards over 10 plays taking up 4:08 off the clock that ended with Mark Ingram punching it in from a yard out. Brees was 4 of 5 on the drive.
The following week against New England the Saints first string offense probably spent less time on the field then it would take to finish an or order of stadium nachos. Brees was 1 of 4 for 4 yards as the offense while he was in the game produced a pair of three and outs. The field goal that came of the second possession was a result of a Curtis Lofton fumble recovery that started the possession at the New England 34.
Jacksonville last week jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead to open the game and Brees and the first stringers responded with a nine play drive that resulted in a field goal however. A three and out followed in the only other possession of the first quarter. The third possession saw a sack-fumble as Brees was hit and lost the ball resulting in a turnover that lead to a Jaguars field goal. Finally in the team’s fourth possession of the game Brees led a more Saints-like drive going 85 yards in 9 plays taking 4:24 off the clock that ended with receiver Devery Henderson catching a TD pass.
Brees and the first string will play the entire first half this game and likely a series maybe two into the third quarter. No question Brees wants to see a touchdown drive take place in the first quarter. Also without running back Darren Sproles, Travaris Cadet will see some plays with the first unit as he has shown to be a good receiver out of the backfield. Reveivers Courtney Roby and Joe Moran will get a chance to impress coaches as they’ll be getting their most extensive work against a first string defense. This week Joe Vitt said Adrian Arrington could be ready for the season opener. If he is not, right now it’ll be Roby or Morgan in that game on September 9.
I will also be keeping an eye on right tackle Zach Strief. Strief was nicked up during OTAs and minicamp was healthy coming into training camp but on occasion has been getting beat. Either that or Cam Jordan the left defensive end is about to have a monster year. This preseason Strief has been beat a few times on game day and at times has resulted in either pressure on Brees or a hit on him. Against Jacksonville Stief and Jimmy Graham had miscommunication or something but the result was Jacksonville’s Jeremy Mincey crushing Brees resulting in a sack-fumble.
One final thing I’ll try and look for is how the Texans defend Jimmy Graham. The Saints tight end had a big game against them last year, and Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did a good job last season. Seeing as teams go into this week game planning, I’m wondering if he will come up with a coverage that could provide a glimpse as to how teams may try and take away Graham this season.
Saints defense vs Texans offense.
Tackling. Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo described last week’s effort as “not very good” this week. Simply, the Saints better tackle better tonight or this game will be a blowout.
Okay I know the injuries at linebacker couldn’t come at a worse time as the Texans are a team that can run and throw the ball. Last year in the regular season meeting it seemed like every pass was over the middle. It was a crossing route by Andre Johnson, a tight end crossing, or a Texans back finding a home over the middle. Scott Shanle, Will Hearing, and Jonathan Casillas are your most experience healthy linebackers so they’ll be challenged from the onset. How hard do you judge their play? Well on Shanle of the three was likely to start the regular season opener. That said Casillas has had a nice preseason and I’m eager to see if he steps up to the challenge and makes a few plays tonight.
While the linebackers are a story no doubt thanks to the injuries, to me it has nothing to do with the defensive line. Steve Spagnuolo was brought in to try and get something out of the front four. Four first round draft picks live up there in Cam Jordan, Brodrick Bunkley, Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith. This is a flat out test to see if there will be pressure this season. Schaub is a very good quarterback. Foster is one of the league’s top rushers. I’m looking to see if the front four can put any pressure on Schaub and provide some resistance against the Texans running game.
Houston receiver Andre Johnson ran free in the Saints secondary last season. In this new defense the cornerbacks and safeties will be facing the quarterback more and should be able to make more plays. This preseason we have seen nice pass blocks by the corners and safety Malcolm Jenkins has a few interceptions. Very interested to see how they cover a pretty good passing offense.