This is the exhibition game which provides the best gauge of things to come in the regular season, with starters playing longer.
For the Saints, it came against the best team New Orleans has faced in the preseason and it came on the road before a sellout crowd at Reliant Stadium against a team that has won two consecutive division titles.
The results were mixed. The Saints defense looked a lot like the New Orleans defense of 2012, giving up huge plays and big yardage in the first half. The Saints offense sputtered early but had a productive first half. Garrett Hartley continues to impress with his field goal prowess while Thomas Morstead, well, is simply being the outstanding Thomas Morstead.
The reserve offensive players were extremely impressive for the Saints the rest of the way.
Overall, the Saints were money offensively and struggled defensively. What else is new?
As a result of the 31-23 victory, the Saints are 3-0 heading into the final preseason game at Miami Thursday. Here are my quick takes from the game:
**The Saints opened in a 4-3 defensive look, for what is it worth.
**The 22-yard pass completion from Matt Schaub to Andre' Johnson on the first drive came against a zone look by the Saints defense.
**Cameron Jordan had great pressure to force the first incomplete pass on the opening series by Schaub before Glenn Foster got his hand on a Schaub pass to get a stop for New Orleans. Foster later recorded his fourth sack of the preseason. This undrafted free agent out of Illinois WILL make this squad!
**It was good to see Pierre Thomas on the field, carrying the football. It was good to see him catching the ball as well, making a defender miss and going the distance on a 51-yard catch and run from Brees to make it 10-7 early in the second quarter.
**Charles Brown got whipped by linebacker Willie Jefferson on the third-down play, nearly resulting in Brees getting sacked for a safety.
**Malcolm Jenkins missed a tackle in space on Ben Tate on his 39-yard run before being beaten in coverage by tight end Graham in coverage on the Texans' touchdown drive that made it 7-0.
**Poor protection for Brees throughout the first quarter. Eric Olsen was beaten for a sack by Crick to stop the second Saints drive.
**There were way too many big holes in the middle for Ben Tate early in the game against Saints starters, particularly on cut back runs. The Saints inside linebackers were getting washed out regularly.
**Will Smith made a very nice play to defeat a block and stop Ben Martin on an end-around, holding it to just two yards.
**Play-action worked great for Houston. Of course, Harper was beaten badly in man coverage.
**164 yards of offense in first quarter for the Texans.
**Cameron Jordan stopped a drive with a sack before Smith limped off the field injured early in the second quarter. Smith left the field with what appeared to be some discomfort in his right knee area.
**Houston sustained a pair of long scoring drives in the first half, one covering 69 yards in five plays, resulting in a touchdown while the other went 55 yards in 10 plays, covering 5:12.
**Houston could not have expected a screen pass to Mark Ingram on the 29-yard completion. New Orleans uses Thomas and Sproles in the screen game. It was a surprise and it was well executed.
**Thomas broke a tackle by Mays on the 51-yard touchdown pass. The Saints have good receivers out of their backfield, to be certain.
**It was a big of a surprise to see Brees pulled midway through the second quarter, considering this was likely his final preseason action. Brees finished 4-of-6 for 104 yards and a touchdown. In fact, Payton pulled offensive starters quite early.
**Garret Hartley sure does seem to like Luke McCown as a holder. He crushed a 51-yard field goal down the middle with lots of room to spare.
**McCown made nice reads and a really nice throw to Lance Moore on his first series of the game.
**David Hawthorne had a near interception of Schaub. Should have had it.
**Nick Toon had a drop on a perfectly thrown ball by McCown. Bobbled it before it was stripped. Have to make that catch and display consistency to earn the confidence of Brees and Sean Payton.
**McCown showed once again that he can throw accurately when on the move. Flushed out of the pocket when Austin Johnson missed a block, he rolled right, Johnson released, McCown spotted him and hit him in stride for a nine-yard completion. In just a half of a quarter following Brees, McCown was 8-of-12 for 104 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter.
**Mark Ingram had a 23-yard run on the following play, a rare long run for him. He had a gaping hole and exploited it.
**Rookie Kenny Stills schooled Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph on the 14-yard touchdown pass from Luke McCown. It was quite a series for Stills, including the 40-yard catch from McCown.
**Tom Johnson got pressure, got a piece of Schaub's arm, forced an incomplete pass late in second quarter.
**Schaub had his way with the Saints, going 15-of-26 for 213 yards in the first half and had four passes dropped, including a certain touchdown pass.
**Andre' Johnson has seven catches for 131 yards in the first half alone. Keenan Lewis truly struggled, an ominous sign for a guy that is supposed to be your best corner. Of course, Johnson can do that to the best.
**Houston riddled the Saints for 281 yards in the first half while the Saints put up 245 yards of their own in the half.
**Is there any doubt that Preston Parker will make the final roster? His 52-yard kickoff return to open the second half certainly helped his cause, if it needed any assistance.
**As I have said before, Andy Tanner can play in the NFL. Can the Saints justify keeping six wide receivers? Then, there is Courtney Roby. Seven is certainly too many. It is a pleasant problem to have but a problem, to be certain. Tanner then went and covered a kickoff, which he will have to do to make the team. He later made a tackle on a kickoff. Tanner added a third-down conversion on a 10-yard reception from Ryan Griffin and made a huge catch on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Griffin.
**The Houston reserve offensive front physically dominated the New Orleans reserve defensive front in the third quarter but when the Texans got inside the Saints' five-yard line, Kenny Vaccaro denies Keshawn Martin at the one-yard line before Ramon Humber denied Deji Karim on fourth-and-goal from the one for a big stop. Like the competitive spunk, not the easy time Houston had moving the ball in the second half.
**Despite having the play wiped out by a holding penalty on Marcel Jones, Khiry Robinson made a brilliant run in the third quarter. The guy has the size and speed and perhaps, the vision necessary to play in the NFL.
**Ryan Griffin handled himself admirably, maintaining poise under pressure. His 13-play, 80-yard drive for a score in the fourth quarter was very impressive. His touchdown pass to Andy Tanner was an NFL veteran throw. Griffin finished 8-of-13 for 86 yards and a touchdown.
**Travaris Cadet made a couple of nice catches, one on a screen and run for 29 yards, another on a back shoulder reception from Ryan Griffin. Nice rebound from his two fumble effort of a week ago.
**In his battle to make the roster, Isa Abdul Quddus made a nice pass breakup on a pass attempt to Alec Lemon on a deep ball by Case Keenum.
**Rookie Reserve linebacker Kevin Reddick had a tackle for a three-yard loss in the fourth quarter while rookie cornerback Rod Sweeting had a nice hit in the open field as he battles to try to stick.
**Saalim Hakim has speed. He got deep and Griffin slightly underthrew him but he had the ball going to the ground and could not hold it. He stayed down injured.
**Houston finished with 496 total yards. We have seen that before. The Saints had 380 yards total.
**Good showing by Saints QB's. 3 combined to go 22-of-33 for 308 yds. & 4 TD's, no INTS
There is a nice nucleus of young players to build with in Jimmy Graham, Cameron Jordan, Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Akiem Hicks, Glenn Foster, Kenny Vaccaro and possibly John Jenkins, along with Junior Galette. Hicks did struggle in this game a bit, getting pushed back some. He has to make sure he plays a little lower, at times.
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