New Orleans Saints show great progress in preseason loss to New England Patriots


The New Orleans Saints‘ performance on Saturday was as close to a polar opposite from the previous game against the Baltimore Ravens as I think they could manage. Whereas the Ravens dominated the early parts of the game before the backups made it close, the Saints gave the New England Patriots a good old fashioned whipping in the early parts of the game. What was even more heartening than the turnaround from one week to the next was the way in which they did it.

The Saints were outright dominant against the run early giving the Patriots practically nothing on the ground whatsoever, and the second string secondary of the Saints dominated the second string receivers of the Pats. Both teams had four or five players out of the game so it’s really not a great indicator of the true comparison between these two teams at present, however, it was nice to see the defense show a significant amount of improvement since last week in really all facets of the game. Particularly, it was nice to see strong play from the starters (those that were present) since it will be their play that actually matters on Sunday.

The play was still far from perfect and there is a ton of room for improvement before they are ready to go into the regular season, but with that said, I feel that the New Orleans Saints’ performance in the first half of the game was an incredibly solid step forward. What made it so great? Well, to start, let’s take a look at the defense and then we can get into the fun stuff with the offense.

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The very first thing that stood out to start this game was the play of the entire defensive front. Instead of getting bullied up front, they were either stonewalling their opponents, or they were pushing them back. I personally thought big John Jenkins in particular looked very good and that Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks lived up to all the hype they have been getting throughout camp. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the defensive front looks so much better with Hicks in there, he really allows them to make sure you can’t key on either him or Jordan without putting someone to a disadvantage. Hicks was a major part in their ability to hold Tom Brady to 13 yards on 2/5 passing through three series. It’s preseason and the Patriots were missing their biggest weapons, but that is still significant.

The Saints held the Patriots to 82 yards on 35 carries which is an average of 2.34 yards per carry. That is impressive in any circumstance, and especially when you dominate both LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray, two big powerful backs who have proven they can do some things in this league.  The run defense was actually pretty good against Baltimore, but the Saints did more than simply contain this time, they made plays in the backfield. Jordan, Hicks, Hau’oli Kikaha (more on him in a minute), Jenkins, Kevin Williams, the list goes on but the bottom line is the Saints front did exactly what you would like to see from them. The pass rush is still a work in progress, but there was actual progress.

Speaking of progress no player made a bigger improvement from one week to the next than rookie OLB/DE Hau’oli Kikaha. Kikaha was an absolute animal during the game as he was flying around making plays all over the field. He had some good pressures and made some very good ‘almost’ plays that will look good on film. The biggest difference from this week to last, though, was he clearly felt more comfortable and was just playing the game instead of thinking. If he can bring the kind of motor and explosive movement that he displayed against the Patriots on a consistent basis, then the Saints may have found a steal in the second round of this year’s draft.

I will get into the players I thought did the best in this game later in the week when I have a chance to watch the film again, but overall I believe that Saints fans can be cautiously optimistic about this season’s prospects based upon what we saw in this game.

Oh yeah, by the way I almost forgot to mention that the New Orleans Saints’ Hall of Fame quarterback just made a massive statement (as much as you can in a preseason game).

Drew Brees came out and was absolutely on FIRE. He torched the Patriots going 8/10 for 159 yards with two touchdowns. And one of those missed completions could have been a third touchdown if Brandon Coleman could have held on to a tough pass that was broken up by Devin McCourty.  The play of the game though, and the one that was a clear statement that ‘his arm is just fine thank you’ was the 45-yard bomb to Brandin Cooks which was absolutely perfect. Cooks consistently torched the Patriots to the tune of four catches for 117 yards, and he made it look easy. The second-year receiver has been chomping at the bit to get back out there, and you can really see the hard work he put in during the offseason paying off. Expect big things to come from the young burgeoning star.

Brees made comments after the game acknowledging that the oblique injury he suffered last offseason had affected his mechanics and that he had spent time getting himself back where he expects to be. The results were obvious as he threw a ball 50 yards through the air on a rope that landed right in his receiver’s hands. That is the kind of play we expect from him at his best, and if Drew is able to be healthy this year and keep his mechanics where they should be, the rest of the league should be worried.

That is especially the case if running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson continue to not only make plays on the ground, but also in the passing game. Ingram had a 29-yard reception on a beautiful pass from Brees to start the game, and Robinson showed his elusiveness and power on a couple of receptions as he got great yards after the catch and contact. Both looked very comfortable and productive in the passing game. Provided they can maintain that going forward, they will both become even more valuable to the offense as their presence (Ingram especially) will no longer tip off the defense to what they have in mind.

I really could talk for a long time about everything I liked about this game, but here is the bottom line. The Saints came out flat, and played like it last week when they played the Ravens. This week the team clearly came out on a mission with the intent to show they were not the team that got manhandled by Baltimore. They allowed only 2.3 yards per carry, which is great in any circumstance, allowed only 364 yards total, and allowed their opponent to only convert 40% (6 of 15) of their third downs. Considering how dominant they were in the first half, it shows you there is still some cleaning up to do, but that’s the point of the preseason. The win/loss record is irrelevant, but showing improvement week to week and getting the team to grow both individually and as a cohesive unit is the only true goal of the preseason. I believe this game went very well in that regard. Oh yeah, and maybe most important of all, the New Orleans Saints escaped with almost no injuries (see Nick Toon’s ankle sprain).

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