Saints fans can feel good about what they have seen so far in the preseason, but must keep that enthusiasm in check. The Black & Gold has played against two bad teams from the AFC West, so while there were some positive signs, they are a long way from being a championship team.
The Oakland Raiders are terrible. They are in full rebuilding mode, and will take a beating this season like they did in the first half during Friday night's loss in New Orleans.
Saints fans can be encouraged at the energy the team played with against the Silver and Black. That energy showed on defense when players were attacking and running to the ball. They were physical across the front and flew around the field. That was very evident on the fourth and one stop in the opening drive. The defensive front held their ground while the two inside linebackers, Ramon Humber and David Hawthorne, attacked downhill to stop Darren McFadden cold.
The secondary still has to avoid leaving receivers uncovered, as they did on third and one on the opening drive. Fortunately, former LSU Tiger Matt Flynn did not see the wide open tight end. The entire defense also relaxed after jumping offside on third and 15 from the Oakland 13, allowing Flynn to complete a 24 yard pass for a first down. This one play got a drive started that resulted in a TD pass to Demarius Moore.
Even in preseason, you cannot relax for a second.
On offense, when you hear Drew Brees or Sean Payton speaking about "tempo," they are referring to the energy being expended by playing fast. Players can only play fast when they know what to do and have the confidence to turn themselves loose. They hear the play, get lined up quickly and get off on the snap of the ball with the proper technique.
Energy was also on display in the kick coverage game. Players were hitting their mark sprinting down the field, taking on blocks rather than running around them, squeezing the running lanes and converging on the ball. Even with Garrett Hartley kicking off shorter and lower than Thomas Morstead, the coverage was sound.
While it is encouraging that the Saints did not have to punt in the first half, scoring on five consecutive drives, only two of those drives resulted in touchdowns. While Garrett Hartley was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goal attempts, not finishing those drives in the end zone is disappointing. This is especially true against a defense like Oakland's.
Brees once again showed good arm strength on his 56 yard completion to Nick Toon. Drew actually threw the ball 53 yards in the air over the top to Toon who utilized his 6'4" frame to shield Raiders corner back Tracy Porter from the ball. The play was a good example that you do not have to be an Olympic sprinter to get open deep. Getting just beyond the defender and keeping him on your back is more important that straight out speed. Toon did a terrific job of "stacking" Porter on his back, giving Brees an opportunity to drop the ball "in the bucket."
That is two weeks in a row that Brees launched a deep ball accurately over the top to the outside. That needs to continue to make the opposing safeties play wider, opening up the inside seams for Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston.
The development of receiver Kenny Stills is what the preseason is all about. He played nervously week one against the Chiefs, but settled down and made some plays against Oakland. On the scramble throw from Drew Brees for the touchdown, Stills was the one receiver that worked to give Brees a place to put the ball. He certainly will be a factor coming into the regular season.
We will get a good evaluation this week against the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Texans feature the zone running scheme the Saints are employing as well as a contrasting style of 3-4 defense coordinated by Wade Phillips. With the starters playing most of the game against a playoff contending team, we should get look at the team's progress.
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