1st cutdown to 80 on Aug. 30
NEW ORLEANS â€“ A potentially dreamy week on the climate-friendly Pacific Coast may have just turned into a California nightmare for the New Orleans Saints.
No doubt, Saturday night's 27-14 "whipping'' at the hands of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium won't sit well with Coach Sean Payton as he continues to shape his bulky training camp roster into a finely-tuned team in time for the NFL season-opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on Sept. 8.
The Black and Gold certainly produced many teachable moments for Payton and his staff this coming week in Oxnard, Calif., where the team will resume training camp leading up to next Sunday night's nationally-televised exhibition against the Raiders in Oakland (7 p.m., NBC).
As impressive as the No.1 defensive unit looked against the San Francisco 49ers in a 24-3 win eight days earlier, it looked overmatched against the Texans' high-octane offense Saturday night. The defensive starters got gashed for 142 total yards and two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter and another 181 yards and 10 points in the second quarter.
Against the 49ers, Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams dialed up 18 pressures on the first 22 plays from scrimmage. Against the Texans, the Saints probably were guilty of double-digit missed tackles in the first half.
On two of the Texans' touchdown runs, the ball carrier appeared to run untouched into the end zone. Arian Foster cruised to a 28-yard TD in the first quarter, breaking free around left end and leaving backup free safety Paul Oliver face-down on the turf looking foolish after clutching at air.
Later in the second quarter, Ben Tate breezed through a gaping hole on the left side of the Saints' defense on a 4-yard scoring run.
Where were the run-stuffers? Where were the linebackers? Send in the reserves.
Granted, Williams called off the dogs and played a lot of zone coverage Saturday night, knowing these two teams will meet again in New Orleans in Week 3 of the regular season. But that doesn't excuse the shoddy tackling performance or lack of effort.
"There's no way to sugarcoat a game like that,'' Payton said. "They whipped us. Fortunately, it's a preseason game. However, it's getting closer and closer to the start of the regular season.''
Time's a wastin'. As of Sunday (Aug. 21), 18 days remain until the season opener.
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Keeping in mind the cut-down dates are fast approaching (80 on Aug. 30, 53 on Sept. 3), here are a few likes, dislikes and observations from Saturday night's game.
- EYE ON BREES: The No. 1 offense under QB Drew Brees moved the ball much better against Wade Phillips' 3-4 defensive unit, resulting in one touchdown and one squandered opportunity inside the Texans' 5-yard line in three series. Facing a first-and-goal from the 4 on their opening drive, Brees fumbled the ball under a heavy rush from Texans' DE Antonio Smith and OLB Mario Williams recovered at the Texans' 28. I didn't like the call, not because it failed but it made more sense to run the ball in that situation.
- ENGINE NO. 9: Even in an exhibition, Brees' competitive nature comes out. Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, he appeared to convince Payton to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Texans' 41. A 3-yard completion to Marques Colston moved the chains and eventually led to Ingram's one-yard TD. That series concluded Brees' work for the night. By the way, if Brees leads WR Robert Meachem properly on that 43-yard completion to the Texans' 8 in the second quarter, it's a touchdown.
- INGRAM-THOMAS-SPROLES: The run game featuring Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles combined for 82 yards on 18 carries. Ingram scored his second TD in as many games (a gritty 1-yard run over RG Jahri Evans and C Olin Kreutz) and showed a knack to get tough yardage. Each brings a unique skill set to the offense.
- RT ZACH STRIEF: No doubt, all eyes in Who Dat Nation were focused on this position in the wake of the sudden release of veteran starter Jon Stinchomb earlier in the week. Strief acquitted himself well against OLB Mario Williams. The same can't be said of second-year tackle Charles Brown, who looked overwhelmed at times during his stint at left tackle with the second unit. I am not impressed with Brown.
- BALL SECURITY: Saints lost the turnover battle as well, committing three turnovers and forcing none. In addition to Brees' turnover, Chase Daniel threw a pick and fumbled once.
- WR/RS JOSEPH MORGAN: This unheralded player from obscure Walsh (Ohio) University is building a solid resume' for himself. He blew past veteran strong safety Danieal Manning and scored on a 56-yard bomb from quarterback Chase Daniel in the second quarter. That comes on the heels of a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against the 49ers. As of today, Morgan is on my final 53 as a fifth wide receiver, not the oft-injured Adrian Arrington or WR/KR Courtney Roby. If a sixth WR is kept, my vote goes to Roby because of his contributions on special teams.
- INJURY REPORT: The running back position took another hit Saturday night as reserve Chris Taylor came away with an injured right foot. DT Aubrayo Franklin sprained the MCL in his right knee. Payton said neither injury appears to be serious.
- STUPID PENALTIES: WR Devery Henderson and CB Patrick Robinson were guilty of unnecessary roughness penalties, Henderson for taking several post-whistle swings at Texans' CB Kareem Jackson and Robinson for throwing a wild elbow at Ben Tate after the whistle. Each action resulted in a 15-yard penalty. No excuse for either.
- JOCKEYING FOR POSITION: On defense,Â numerous battles are being waged for starting jobs and roster spots as we head down the stretch of training camp, particularly at WLB (Jonathan Casillas, Scott Shanle) and RDE where Will Smith is likely facing a season-opening four-game suspension. The cornerback position continues to be a work in progress because of injuries to rookie Johnny Patrick and veteran Leigh Torrence and the return to health of Tracy Porter. In the back end of the secondary, after Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, you can throw everyone else in a hat with special teams' playing a determining factor.
- IT'S ONLY TRAINING CAMP: Who Dat Nation needs to be patient and keep everything in a healthy perspective. What you see now is not the finished product. At the moment, the Black and Gold is an 89-man roster and not a 53-man team.
Tune into "The Morning Drive'' with co-hosts Brian Allee-Walsh and Chris Landry each weekday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on WIST-AM 690 and 104.9 FM
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