Following a solid showing in the preseason opener in a 24-3 victory over San Francisco, the New Orleans Saints (1-0) hit the road for a matchup with the Houston Texans (1-0) Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans won their preseason opener, 20-16, over the New York Jets. Houston's new 3-4 defense had success, sacking New York quarterbacks seven times, including two by linebacker Xavier Adibi. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya accounted for 104 total yards and two touchdowns. Reserve quarterback Matt Leinart was 8-of-14 for 78 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
All-Pro running back Arian Foster should play after sitting out last week due to a tight hamstring. Andre Johnson, regarded by many as the best wide receiver in the NFL, will likely play though he also did not play against the Jets due to a finger injury. Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub was a Pro Bowl player in 2010.
A year ago, the Saints blitzed the Texans, 38-20, at the Superdome in the second preseason game for both teams. the New Orleans offense had their way with a leaky Houston defense.
It was a coming out party for running back Chris Ivory, who ran hard and would earn a roster spot. Ivory rushed 20 times for 66 yards. Chase Daniel was outstanding, completing 15-of-21 passes for 182 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. The Texans struggled defensively all season long, a big reason they finished 6-10.
Enter Wade Phillips.
The former Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and New Orleans head coach may not have succeeded as a head coach but no one disputes his prowess as a defensive coordinator. Phillips is outstanding in that role, helping orchestrate 12 top 10 defensive performances in his illustrious career.
Phillips brings the 3-4 defensive look to the Texans, including moving former number one overall draft choice Mario Williams to outside linebacker. Though he has much to learn in the system and at the position, Williams is supremely athletic.
The work will be good for the Saints, who have traditionally not fared as well against 3-4 defensive fronts as opposed to traditional 4-3 fronts.
Here are 10 things to watch for during the Black & Gold's game at Houston:
**An improved performance from week one by Drew Brees. The man's competitive fire burns and he wants some skins on the wall. Look for Brees to play at least a quarter, if not more against Houston.
**How fullback Jed Collins looks. He has a real chance to open the season as the starter despite the presence of expected starter Korey Hall. NFL teams do not typically keep two fullbacks on the roster.
**How Zach Strief handles the right tackle spot. Strief and Charles Brown are under the white hot spotlight now that Jon Stinchcomb is gone. Basically, it is a three week trial/audition. If the Saints like what they see, Strief gets the job while Brown learns, gets stronger and develops. If not, do not rule out another move to get a veteran tackle.
**More touches for Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. Ingram rushed six times and caught one pass against the 49ers. Sproles had one carry and did not return punts. With Strief and Ingram, the Saints will make a sincere effort to return to running the football more, as they did successfully in the Super Bowl winning season of 2009 when they were a top five team in the league in both rushing and passing.
**Playing it safe with Tracy Porter. Though the valuable starting cornerback returned to the practice field earlier this week, he will not play in the game. The goal is to have Porter healthy and ready for the Packers on opening night.
**Matt Tennant. He could see some time at guard. He lined up there in place of Jahri Evans at practice Thursday. Evans is expected to play against the Texans but Tennant, who is now backing up Olin Kreutz, could become a valuable commodity as a reserve swing-man.
**Sixth-year running back Patrick Cobbs. Can the newly acquired player make his mark? With Chris Ivory and Joique Bell out, he figures to get some touches.
**Joseph Morgan. The first-game punt return sensation caught a long pass for a touchdown at practice Thursday. Speed kills. While he may be caught in a numbers game, Morgan is doing enough to earn a spot on the developmental squad or to be claimed by another team if he does not stick in New Orleans. Incidentally, he is another Illinois guy--he started there before transferring to Walsh College.
**Cameron Jordan. The first-round draft pick had one tackle in the 49ers game. He needs reps to improve, figure it out and find his way. The Saints need him to play immediately and contribute at the start the 2011 season.
**The Illinois connection. All of the following played college ball for the Fighting Illini.
Rookie seventh rounder Nate Bussey is a dark horse to stick; he is athletic, runs well and excels in the kicking game. Sean Payton has praised Bussey publicly.
Rookie free agent Jarred Fayson was an early camp sensation before slowing down. He drew the wrath of wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson at practice Thursday for a dropped pass and for running an incorrect route. He needs to perform well.
Third-round pick Martez Wilson is imposing (6'4", 250). With the competition at outside linebacker wide open, he has a good chance to make a real impression.
Veteran Pierre Thomas is battling the rookie Ingram for a starting job at running back.
The Saints and Texans are meeting for the fourth straight year in the preseason, but the 2011 matchup has a twist. The two sides will square off in week three of the regular season on September 25 in the Superdome so both teams could play it close to the vest Saturday night.
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