Keys to the preseason: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints


Preseason Game 3: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Welcome back to our Keys to the Game segment! The New Orleans Saints do battle with the Houston Texans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday in what many call the ‘dress rehearsal’ contest. For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to be able to watch the Saints during the preseason, you’ll be able to get your first glimpse of the squad. That’s right. The game will be nationally televised on FOX, with a 3PM start time (4PM Eastern).

What to Watch For


If we’re going to see the starters for a full half of football, then I would love to see a replication of last week’s success against the Patriots. The offense was firing on all cylinders, and it was difficult to stop the offensive attack led by Drew Brees. Brandin Cooks looked exceptional, and Mark Ingram displayed some appealing versatility out of the backfield. The Saints offensive line will be my focal point of what to watch for in this game against an extremely talented front seven.


Last week, Hau’oli Kikaha and Cam Jordan stole the spotlight on defense. That’s an extremely good sign for Rob Ryan’s defense. It was complete polar opposites from week to week for the first team defense. Even with Tom Brady’s depleted arsenal of wide receiving options, forcing three straight 3-and-outs are no joke. The first defense looked much better, but the second team struggled. I’m interested to see how much work Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux get in this game, and you’ll obviously keep a close watch on Stephone Anthony.

Special Teams

If Dustin Hopkins made that 55-yard field goal attempt, then he would have been dubbed this year’s starter. Unfortunately, it was wide left. Hopkins has plenty of distance, and there were no elements affecting his kick. Now, you raise an eyebrow and wonder if Zach Hocker can step up to potentially take the job from him.

As far as the return game, no further evidence is required to sell me on Marcus Murphy being on this team. However, I’m keeping an eye out for players like Willie Snead, Tim Hightower, and Henry Coley to help make their case for the final squad with their added versatility on special teams coverage.

Key #1 – Control the clock

What’s the best way to attack a stellar defense? Keep them on the field and wear them down. I can’t say that you’ll see the same quick strike attack from last week, as the Texans defense is extremely talented. I believe the edge comes from opening up the playbook. With Vince Wilfork plugging the middle, the Saints may find if difficult to run up the gut. On the flip side, running to the outside can pose a problem because of the speed the Texans linebackers and ends have. It will be extremely interesting to see how the first team offense moves the ball on Sunday. Also, who can’t forget about J.J. Watt?

Key #2 – Pressure the quarterback

Again, I don’t believe the Saints have to sack the quarterback. However, the pressure needs to be there. Just look at Pierre Warren‘s interception last week. Tavaris Barnes helped collapse the pocket, and ended up forcing Jimmy Garoppolo to make a bad throw. No disrespect to the Texans’ quarterbacks, but the Saints should be able to get to after Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. If the defense wants to get a pass rush going, it will likely come from their ends and linebackers.

Key #3 – Escape without injuries

Let’s face it. As the clock ticks down closer to September 13th against the Arizona Cardinals, we’re likely facing the reality of not having C.J. Spiller and Jairus Byrd in the mix. Quite honestly, I would rather them be completely healed and 100 percent instead of being rushed back to the field for the sake of having them in the lineup.

Difference Maker

I believe this game comes down to the second half again, and it could prove to be another exciting finish. Like last week, I believe the tone will be set early in this game. I look at two players as the difference makers this week. This is the game that Ryan Griffin can definitively place himself above Luke McCown. Rookie Andrus Peat really got an earful from Coach Sean Payton last week, and that’s just part of the growing pains. I look for Peat and Griffin to have very strong outings.

Closing Thoughts

The New Orleans Saints have won eight straight ‘dress rehearsal’ games. They’re 8-1 since 2006, with their only loss being against the Indianapolis Colts. Is that a meaningless statistic? I don’t believe so. I think at the end of the day, Payton’s squad will put together a victory at home. There will be a lot of emotions riding in this game, and it’s no coincidence that this falls right around the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

10. 28. 15. Final. 24