Tonight, WUFX (local station known as “My 35”) will carry the New Orleans Saints against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a pregame show starting a 6:30 p.m. and kickoff at 7 p.m. The Saints come into the game with a 1-1 record in the preseason.
New Orleans defeated the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 in the Hall of Fame game. In their second preseason game, the Saints fell to the New England Patriots 7-6.
This is the third of five preseason games for the Saints (they play an extra game because they played in the HOF game) and with two games played there are some trends. No, you shouldn’t take everything in preseason at face value.
But remember last preseason, I mentioned the pass coverage and tackling by the Saints defense? While New Orleans was not terrible in either area every game of 2011, it did plague them throughout the regular season.
I have made a quick list of things to watch tonight. Again, just trends to watch in the preseason to see if they carry over into the regular season.
Saints running game
Everyone, including me, loves to gush over the stable of running backs the Saints have on their roster. It feels like New Orleans should dominate teams with their running backs and the ability to send waves of running backs with different abilities and strengths at opposing defenses.
So, far the running game has not done much, only averaging 87 yards in two preseason games. To be fair, Mark Ingram played sparingly in the HOF game and not at all against the Patriots.
Also, the Saints haven’t used Darren Sproles very much this preseason either. Still, the other backs on this roster need to pick up the pace and work load.
It is not like New Orleans is not trying to run the ball. The Saints have averaged 28.5 rushing attempts per game.
I would like to see the running backs do more with the carries they are allotted. This group has only made 10 first downs rushing in two games (5 first downs in both games).
That type of production in the regular season will not help the Saints close out games with a lead. A strong running game will help New Orleans chew clock and play keep away with opposing teams.
I need to see harder running and breaking tackles from this group. The motto should be “no one goes down easy”.
Saints passing game and scoring offense
I am not extremely worried about this right now because Drew Brees is not playing very long, but through two preseason games the Saints are only averaging 11.5 points per game.
A couple of things to remember: The replacement officials are allowing defenses to be more aggressive in pass defense (I love this) and none of the Saints backups are Drew Brees. Still, I would like to see more from Chase Daniel when he is leading the offense.
It would also be nice to see either Sean Canfield or Luke McCown grab the third spot by the neck and not let it go. I have very little faith, after the New England game, that the Saints aren’t screwed if Brees goes down at some point.
I need to see Daniel, Canfield, and McCown do more. They need to lead the offense on scoring drives.
Defensive tackling/pass coverage
I harped on this like a broken record last season all the way up till Alex Smith led the San Francisco 49ers down the field for the game-winning score in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Last season this unit struggled just making tackles and keeping receivers in front of them to make tackles after catches.
Well guess what, not any more. I am falling in love with the back seven so far this preseason. The new linebackers the Saints signed this offseason have done wonders in pass defense and tackling ball carriers.
In two preseason games, the Saints are only allowing 171 passing yard by their opponents. That makes me giddy just thinking about it.
I love that number. And in today’s NFL, that is a wonderful average. I don’t expect it to stay that low once the regular season starts, but if it doesn’t balloon to 350 or 400 yards I will live what they Saints are giving up.
The secondary and the linebackers have made leaps and bounds in this offseason. I know it might be semi-sacrilegious, but I think the defense will be better under Steve Spagnuolo in the long term over Greg Williams’ defense.
I know Williams’ defense delivered a Super Bowl to the city but it had major flaws if the defense couldn’t put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Spagnuolo’s defense puts pressure on the quarterback, but it's more of a calculated pressure than the “honey, sell the farm!” blitzing Williams did.
Watch this unit and see if they keep improving over the next three games. If they do, then it will be easy for me to believe that the Saints will be just fine without Sean Payton.
Saints run defense
New Orleans is allowing an average of 119 yards per game on the ground. That is not too worrisome, but the Saints need to do a little better job stopping their opponents' running attack.
As long as this number doesn’t go much higher as the preseason goes along, I will not worry too much. This is mainly nitpicking, but still something to keep an eye on.
The Saints could clean up penalties a bit. New Orleans had ten penalties for 66 yards against New England.
I would like to see the Saints be a little more disciplined on both sides of the ball as the preseason moves along. Again this is a little nitpicking, but penalties can be season killers.