You can look at it two ways — Week 3 of the 2014 NFL Preseason is underway or the regular season kicks off in just two weeks. Either way, the New Orleans Saints still have to make it through tonight’s dress rehearsal against the Indianapolis Colts.
The contest should help us see get a glimpse of what the future holds for the Black and Gold. Looking back at history, coaches leave the starters in past halftime of the third preseason game and rest them Week 4 to protect the vitals from injury. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a quick gameday preview.
With T.Y. Hilton, the return of Reggie Wayne and addition of Hakeem Nicks, Andrew Luck has the most talented group of individuals he’s ever had the pleasure of throwing to. Going up against one of the top secondary units in the league is going to be a test for the emerging superstar quarterback. Luck is on his way to elite status, but his talent will be tried against the Saints.
Both Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw will be looking to get it done in the backfield for Indy. Richardson was dealt to the Colts by the Cleveland Browns halfway through the 2013 season, but still never really found his envisioned success at the next level. Bradshaw, who had to cut his season short last year after neck surgery, has been plagued with injuries since having that breakout year for the New York Giants in 2010. New Orleans’ emerging front seven will be a good test for the two bounce-back hopefuls.
On the defensive side of the ball, Indianapolis made sure to keep CB Vontae Davis away from free agency. However their biggest offseason move was snagging up former Browns’ ILB D’Qwell Jackson from the market. His veteran presence along with Robert Mathis and LaRon Landry could give that up and coming defense the boost they need. I see some heavy blitzing schemes from the Colts to try and inflict pressure and force errors on QB Drew Brees.
After the game against the Tennessee Titans last week, the Saints are looking to rebound from an ugly win and eliminate the mental errors that played a role in the 22 penalties. The return of Brees from an oblique strain should help ease the situation. His presence in the huddle is crucial, but will he have to shake the rust off after missing the first two games?
Everybody has been waiting to see the magic between Brees and first-round pick Brandin Cooks. Well, tonight will be our first chance to see what they can do together. WR Kenny Stills will be returning from a quad injury, so between him, Cooks and Joe Morgan, the Saints are looking to give the Colts trouble with their speedy wideouts.
Also, look for the backfield to rebound after a subpar performance at home last week. Forming a solid one-two punch with Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson look to be the team’s plans, leaving Pierre Thomas with third down duties.
Tim Lelito is leading with the majority of the snaps at center, but the battle with Jonathan Goodwin continues. The athletic Terron Armstead has been almost flawless at left tackle so far during training camp. Watching him go head to head with Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks in 2013) will be one of the biggest tests of his career.
Defensively, it’s all about the secondary. It’s time to see Jairus Byd and Champ Bailey in action for the first time since throwing on new colors. This will be the best offense the Saints’ “no-fly zone” has seen, so going out and firing on all cylinders will be crucial against Luck and an excellent receiving corps. The cornerback battle continues and the team’s prime evaluation period is now.
Tonight’s preseason contest will be the biggest test so far for both Indianapolis and New Orleans. It’s an intriguing matchup that will teach us quite a bit about the two teams. For those of you not interested in exhibition games, I strongly urge you to tune in at 7:00 p.m on CBS. It’s a regular season dress rehearsal, meaning the starters will be out there for a majority of the game. It will be interesting to see how Sean Payton and company stack up against a Super Bowl-caliber team on the road.