Keys to the preseason: New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints
By John Hendrix
Preseason Game 2: New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints
Welcome back to our Keys to the Game segment! The New Orleans Saints are set to clash with the New England Patriots Saturday evening in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. While many suggest that the first outing for the black and gold was a cause for panic and concern, others tend to see the silver lining in the team’s play. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, the reality is that it’s one preseason game, and it’s all but over with.
What to Watch For
Once again, the quarterback carousel will be one of the most interesting things to keep an eye on. Drew Brees is set to see at least one series on offense, and then we’ll see our fair share of Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown battling it out for the backup spot. I believe Griffin looked solid last week, and he needs to replicate his performance. The backup battle is eerily similar to last year, as Griffin impressed early on, but couldn’t do enough to wrap up the No. 2 spot. I thought Garrett Grayson did an exceptional job in his first outing, and only look forward to seeing him more.
It will also be interesting to see how many reps Tim Hightower gets this week, and how Marcus Murphy performs in front of the home crowd. Murphy has reportedly earned a roster spot based on his performance against the Ravens and through practices.
Lastly, I want to see how Brandon Coleman does with first team reps. He only played on special teams last week, and coach Sean Payton stated that it wasn’t due to anything disciplinary. I also want to see if Nick Toon can put anything solid together. He’s been struggling in training camp, and all but seems that he’s on the roster bubble. Of course, I’d be silly to not mention Willie Snead as someone to keep an eye out during the game.
The first unit struggled last week, and there’s no question about it. There were some bright spots like Cam Jordan and Delvin Breaux, but penalties helped extend the Ravens’ drives on the first two defensive outings. I was honestly more impressed by the second and third team defenses (aside the 4th and 20 play obviously).
Tom Brady carved up the Saints secondary in practice yesterday, and we’re likely to see more of the same on Saturday night if he’s in the equation. I don’t expect to see many starters in the mix, so it will be interesting to see if the youngsters learned anything from practice this week.
Out of my players to watch this week, I’m really intrigued by middle linebacker Henry Coley. Coley was exceptional in coverage, and graded out as one of the top defenders last week on his 30 snaps.
Dustin Hopkins looked like the more confident kicker going into the contest, but give Zach Hocker credit for shaking off his first miss of the game. The kicker battle advantage goes to Hopkins as of right now, so it’ll be interesting to see if Hopkins can keep fending off Hocker.
If Marcus Murphy has indeed earned the starting role as a returner, then that means Tim Hightower will have to do more in coverage to help solidify a roster spot. On my most recent 53-man roster projection, I had Hightower over Murphy, but pointed out that an alternate scenario exists where both could make the final team. It’s something to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses.
Key #1 – Limit the mistakes
You want to see a more disciplined team come out against the Patriots. 16 penalties for 145 yards is never acceptable, but thankfully we’re talking about this in the preseason and not the regular season. It wasn’t just the backups who committed penalties last week. Someone as seasoned as Anthony Spencer has to play smarter if he wants to make the final roster.
Key #2 – Rhythm and tempo
Seeing Max Unger being a huge part of the Brandin Cooks touchdown late in the half was exactly what you wanted to see out of the Saints offense. With Drew Brees in the equation this week, it’ll be a more accurate portrayal of what to expect this season. Ultimately, we know what Brees brings to the table, but it would be good to see the offensive line with more of a push off the snap.
Key #3 – Limit the injuries
Again, football is very unpredictable. It’s unfortunate to see so many suffer season ending injuries across the NFL like Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and his ACL tear. In general, the Saints are very banged up in terms of injuries. Let’s keep this to a minimum.
I’m going all in on Ryan Griffin tomorrow evening. I believe the backup position is his to lose. If there’s going to be one player that really distances himself from everyone else, it’s Griffin. I know the Patriots have a talented group, but I could see him tossing a pair of touchdowns and controlling the game.
You want to say that the New Orleans Saints really need this one, but simply that isn’t the case. This game will likely come down to the depth on the second and third teams. I like the depth of the Saints to really shine through and help overcome an early stalemate.