Keys to the preseason: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens
By John Hendrix
Preseason Game 1: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens
Welcome back to our Keys to the Game segment! Sure, it may only be NFL preseason, but New Orleans Saints football is back! Making heads or tails of what to expect from the opening contest of the preseason setting is very difficult. What you’d like to see out of your team is executing on the basics and fundamentals that were established in OTAs, minicamp, and training camp. Most of the time, you will only see base sets out of defenses and very basic sub packages. In reality? It’s simplistic football at its finest.
What to Watch For
The biggest thing to keep an eye out for is the tempo. We’re not likely to see a lot of Drew Brees during the opener, and rightfully so. We should see plenty of Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown, as the team is ultimately going to have to make a tough decision as to who will backup Brees. Garrett Grayson should come in at some point (at least we’d like to think so) late in the game to close things out, so getting your first official glimpse at the rookie from Colorado State is always a spectacle.
I’m also looking at the offensive line depth. How much surge and push will they get? Will Tim Lelito struggle with the first team like he has in practice? How does Senio Kelemete look as a backup center after converting to guard? How memorable will Andrus Peat‘s first game be? How does Sean Hickey look after converting to right guard after playing tackle at Syracuse? Is this Bryce Harris‘ final run? These are just some of the many questions I have around the offensive line, and I’m certain these will get answered quickly.
Last year’s unit was known for several things, which were all negative. Among those sore spots, I’m looking specifically at the team’s ability to tackle (which I went on a tirade about on last night’s episode of Big Easy Blitz) and generate pressure. Another Achilles’ heel from last season was the ability to get off the field on third down situations. So, don’t think any of us forgot about it.
Rob Ryan is reportedly simplifying things this season, and we’re about to see how simple his scheme is. The Saints were labeled a base 4-3 defense according to their first unofficial depth chart. I’m keeping an eye on the interior line the most, and obviously what rookie Stephone Anthony does.
All in all, I’d just be happy with a defense that puts forth the effort.
There’s two things to keep an eye out for, but mainly it falls on the kicking battle between Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker. It’ll be interesting to see how Sean Payton divides up the work between these two when it comes to field goal attempts. We should also see them doubling on kickoff duties in place of Thomas Morstead, which is a subtle thing to keep an eye on. Morstead requires no extra work, hence my reasoning.
Another under the radar area to keep an eye on is the long snapper position. Justin Drescher has been nicked up, which prompted a signing of Chris Highland. The last thing anyone needs is special team debacles.
You’ll also want to keep a strong eye out for who fields punt returns and is established as a kick returner. Furthermore, for those longshots looking to make the squad this year, they’ll want to exhibit some stellar special teams coverage.
Key #1 – Execute on the basics
All that matters tomorrow night is playing good and basic football. Limiting mental mistakes in the way of penalties is always important. It’s okay to see some fire and passion out of players, but let’s see the team not run around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Key #2 – Establish continuity
Assuming we do see the first team offense and defense for at least one or two series, I’m just interested to see the pace and tempo pan out for these respective units. Obviously, not everyone will play, but those who do suit up need to put things together early. We want to see Max Unger and crew open lanes for Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, and we also want to see Drew Brees have chemistry with wide receivers.
Key #3 – Limit the injuries
Football is such an unpredictable sport, so this isn’t realistic. However, injuries are killer. The last thing you’d wish on anyone is to get hurt severely and miss the entire season due to a significant injury. Whatever voodoo and rituals you do before a normal Saints contest, be sure you wish nothing but the best for all 180 players on both clubs tomorrow.
It’s the first game, so how much can you make of this? In a preseason contest, it’ll likely come down to the second or third string making the difference here. Believe it or not, I’m going to say that R.J. Harris gets my early vote for making a large impact tomorrow. He can catch and play special teams, so keep an eye out for.
The New Orleans Saints are going to take the field no matter what, and if things go south and they get blown out, there’s no need to hit the panic button. You want to see your club put together a win and blowout the competition. However, that’s not likely to happen unless Baltimore’s offseason direction under John Harbaugh was just lackadaisical. I expect a close contest, but given the fact that many have their respective doubts. I do too.