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Saints-Raiders Review: Vanilla-flavored defense still seems lacking

New Orleans « 14 3 15 8 40
Oakland 7 3 10 0 20
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Saints at Raiders 2011Saints at Raiders 2011

NEW ORLEANS – Don't be misled by Sunday night's final score – New Orleans 40, Oakland 20.

The Saints' ongoing transition from "roster'' to "team'' is not yet complete, not based on the unimpressive performance turned in by their No. 1 defensive unit against the Raiders in a nationally-televised exhibition game at O.co Coliseum.

Not when your team's best tackle, arguably, was made on a punt return by backup long snapper Kyle Nelson who may not survive Tuesday's first cut from 90 to 80 or less.

For a second consecutive game, Gregg Williams' top defensive unit showed it is not ready to open the regular season Sept. 8 against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers at storied Lambeau Field.

Too many missed tackles, too many empty cutback lanes, too few big plays.

In what is widely regarded as the most meaningful game of the preseason, the Saints' No. 1 defensive unit gave up 20 points in 2-plus quarters to a Raiders' offense that was missing several key players due to injury, including running back Darren McFadden.

Was the Saints defensive effort/performance better Sunday against the Raiders than against the Houston Texans the previous week? Absolutely, unequivocally yes! But let's be honest here, there was nowhere to go but up from that uninspired outing.

Prime example Sunday night: Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Saints pinned the Raiders back at their 9-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. Eleven plays and 91 yards later, we have a tie ball game. Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell beat a safety blitz from Malcolm Jenkins and connected with wide receiver Derek Hagen on a 35-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

Hagan beat Saints' cornerback Tracy Porter in single coverage and eluded an arm tackle as Porter lost his footing on the infield dirt.

For all intents and purposes, we have seen the last of the Saints' upper echelon defenders this training camp because most will sit and watch Thursday night's preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans at the Superdome.

On the flip side, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the No. 1 offense seems football-ready to play the Pack in primetime.

Brees directed the offense on three cross-country scoring drives – 80, 80 and 63 yards. He picked apart the Raiders' defense, completing 15 of 23 passes for 189 yards in less than two quarters of work, five going to second-year tight end Jimmy Graham for 73 yards.

Backup quarterback Chase Daniel completed the dissection, completing nine of 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns en route to their final 23 points.

Even the Saints' 2-point offense looked Packers-ready, converting both plays after touchdowns in the second half; the first coming on a pass from Daniel to wide receiver Adrian Arrington and the second on a run by Joique Bell.

Saints Coach Sean Payton went for 2 on both occasions because of a hip injury to kicker Garrett Hartley.

Offensively, the O-line did a good job in pass pro and run blocking. And the Holy Trinity of running backs Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles continues to provide a nice change of pace regardless of down and distance.

The bottom line is the Saints will not – I repeat will not – defeat the Packers at Lambeau Field unless the' defense gets its act together between now and Sept. 8.

The time has come for the Black and Gold defense to change flavors from very vanilla to hot chocolate.


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