Football is officially back! It’s time to separate the boys from the men in an actual game, rather than devouring camp news on the daily. Round one – at Jacksonville.
Saints began the game almost at full force, lacking only Tommylee Lewis to minor injury. All of the stars were dressed for the game, along with Drew Brees and Cameron Jordan, who did not play. This opened the door for Tom Savage to get reps with the starting OL, as well as receivers. Though it was the defense that started the game. Playcalling was far from usual and for a vast majority of game we saw the Saints playing soft zone coverage, giving up a lot of underneath throws. D-Line play was subpar at the beginning, with some evident pressure from Trey Hendrickson and Sheldon Rankins. It wasn’t enough to stop Jaguars though, who got themselves a touchdown on a misdirection run by Blake Bortles. The very next drive they managed to stop Jags and force a long FG, converted by Josh Lambo. It’s hard to draw conclusions from these two drives, but the we did see solid outings from Rankins and Crawley.
But let’s get back to the offense. Tom Savage was really mediocre, he did have a good pocket presence, as well as play reading, but his accuracy was outrageous – he overshot open Kamara and later sailed the ball into his knees on a screen play. He did manage the ball efficiently, avoiding costly mistakes and moving it down the field. He led the team to two scoring drives. We’ve seen he has a solid connection with Mike Thomas on underneath routes. With all that being said, he didn’t look as a viable option in case of emergency. In a short spell we also saw Mark Ingram, who looks to be in solid form to say the least.
Savage’s game induced a little of witch-hunt in the fandom, raising their pitchforks calling for Taysom Hill under center. And they got their wish thanks to his stunning kneel-down to end first half action. Jokes aside, Taysom did raise the level of inconsistency that Savage displayed. He had nice touch on some throws, but also egregiously missed some. His throws also were more interceptable than Savage’s and Tre’Quan Smith once had to deflect the ball out of a defender’s hands. Hill’s decision-making was just bad – he got sacked twice in a row, didn’t wait for his progressions and often dropped his head immediately after first read. His scrambles though were formidable and fans even got to see a read option or RPO in the playbook. Overall, Taysom is still not ready to be a trustful backup and his best moment came when he almost blocked a punt in first half.
Highly advertised rookie Tre’Quan Smith also got his fair share of snaps. He caught 4 passes for 48 yards on 5 targets, with the mentioned PBU to save an INT. He showcased his insane catch radius, saving both Savage and Hill for first downs. He also displayed solid run after catch ability. Other receivers haven’t got the same exposure, though both Josh Huff and Keith Kirkwood did their job when called. Similarly to highly touted WR-convert TE Dan Arnold. The passing game was held back due to inaccuracy issues and shaky O-Line play. When interior linemen were fairly solid, tackles were tormented by Jaguars edge rushers. They did indeed stabilize their play in second half, allowing Saints to march down the field for two late TDs.
The latter half, a winning one, was propelled by a very good drive by Jonathan Williams who, along with Boston Scott, stood out the most. Williams had only one good drive to shine, yet he flourished with patient, agile and effective running. Shane Vereen and Terrance West were mostly inefficient. Snaps were really divided, so players like Scott or Trey Edmunds, now playing FB, haven’t really got any chance to shine. Scott was close to a TD on a rollout play in the 4th quarter, but JT Barrett decided to hold onto the ball.
What won the game was the second half defensive line play. Though they started sluggish, allowing a second touchdown, they quickly turned the corner completely smothering Jaguars O-Line. First to show up was Mitchell Loewen who tallied 6 tackles, 2 for loss and 1 QB hit before ending his night prematurely due to minor injury. Next one to step up was Devaroe Lawrence, who constantly issued pressure in the interior, showing also very good block shedding skills which earned him his first sack. Eventually he finished with 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL and 3 QB hits. Impressive also was UDFA Taylor Stallworth, who also notched a sack and fumble recovery. Stallworth presented himself with very good run stuff and great block disengaging skills, similar skillset to Saints starter Tyeler Davison.
In the fourth quarter Jayrone Elliott went off, notching two strip sacks, with second was recovered and led the winning TD drive. He tallied 5 tackles with very solid edge presence, easily showing out from the edge defenders group. Hau’oli Kikaha and Al-Quadin Muhammad were quiet this game and little can be said about their achievements. UDFA linebacker Colton Jumper vas really visible in the second half, but mainly because of his poor tackling which led to two big plays for the Jaguars. He has shown good athleticism and ball tracking, but his form and foundation were atrocious.
Secondary play was also uninspiring as soon as starters went to ride the pine. Trio of starters was as solid as it gets. But Of course drawing conclusions from this outing has little sense to it. With Saints playing out-of-scheme coverages. We did though see botched coverages and poor communication during few plays. The worst mistake was made by Vonn Bell, who made the wrong coverage decision in red zone, subsequently attacking TE Scott Orndoff with a poor tackle attempt. That play resulted in a touchdown for the Jags, their last scoring drive in the game. The better the pressure Saints’ D-Line issued, the better corners were playing.
What we saw in Jacksonville for sure, was the improvement of special teams play. They opened the game with very good return by Brandon Tate for 36 yards. Later in the game Boston Scott also had a good one for 35 yards. Coverage on Jaguars’ returns was spectacular, as they managed only 21.6 yards per kick-off return. Add to that the almost-blocked punt by Taysom Hill and we’re seeing vast progress in this level of the game.
Next game – vs Arizona on August 17th in New Orleans.