Good evening, Who Dat Nation. It’s nice to see you guys, again. We are now just a few weeks away from seeing our New Orleans Saints open their 2019 campaign at home on a Monday night against the Houston Texans. Before we get there, we have to get through the monotonous stretch known as preseason, which is more of a tease than anything else for most fans. For you die-hards that find yourself here looking for a deeper dive, welcome! We appreciate you being here and look forward to making the journey towards the final 53-man roster together.
Today, we will be looking at our Saints and Sinners from Sunday’s comeback win against the Los Angeles Chargers. The black and gold pulled off a 19-17 win to even out their preseason record at 1-1. For those who are new to this weekly blog of mine, the “Saints” are the players who performed well and stood out, while the “Sinners” are those who struggled and have room for improvement. With that being said, let’s jump right in to it.
Where to even begin? Hill was the cog in the engine that was the Saints offense in the second half, leading his team back from a 17-3 halftime deficit. He finished the game 11/15 for 136 yards and two touchdowns through the air, which was good enough for a 140.6 quarterback rating. That ties his career high for QB rating (including preseason) in games which he threw more than five passes. Coincidentally, he put up the exact same rating against the Chargers last preseason. Hill’s accuracy was what really stood out to me. There was only one really bad miss, from what I recall. His highlight throw was an 18 yard completion to Lil’Jordan Humphrey on a crossing route. It was far from the Saints’ biggest offensive play of the game, but the pinpoint precision of the throw was simply incredible. His other highlight pass came on a 27 yard touchdown strike to Austin Carr. Sure, Carr was wide open, but it was the recognition an decision making of Hill to make the throw that impressed me. Los Angeles appeared to be running a cover-2 where the cornerback lined up on Carr released him to the safety and Hill saw it and fired the ball immediately upon recognizing what was going on. The safety had no chance to get there in time, resulting in the first Saints touchdown of the game. As far as Hill’s running, well, let’s just say that those second and third teamers had no chance. He led the team in rushing for the second straight game, putting up 53 yards on just five carries. He did so with jukes, stiff arms, and to no one’s surprise, running through people. It was certainly a memorable performance from Taysom Hill, clearly solidifying his name as a possibility to get a chance once Drew Brees retires.
After a short, but forgettable performance in the preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, the Saints starting defense got back to their stifling, aggressive play that we became accustomed with in 2018. They forced a turnover on downs on the very first drive of the game, setting up the offense with the ball in Chargers territory. Two drives later, David Onyemata tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage that fell in to A.J. Klein’s arms, who’s return set New Orleans up in the red-zone, leading to their first points of the game on a 33 yard Wil Lutz field goal. The run defense was stifling and guys like Vonn Bell and Demario Davis were flying around the field as if they were in mid-season form. I would like to see an improvement from the pass rush, but Cam Jordan has gotten the veteran rest through the first two preseason games, so their performance should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, the defensive unit showed encouraging signs of picking up right where they left off last year.
In a blur, Harris has gone from looking up at veteran Marcus Sherels for the kick/punt returner job, to being the clear favorite, in my opinion. Sherels has missed significant time through training camp and preseason and Harris is taking full advantage of it. Through the halfway mark of preseason, Pro Football Focus has Harris as their highest graded return specialist with an 86.0. He averaged 25.0 yards per kick return and 11.0 yards per punt return on Sunday. That punt return number is especially important, because anytime you can get extra yardage for an offense as potent as Sean Payton’s, you have a luxury. At this point, the job appears to be Harris’ to lose.
The third-to-last pick in the 2019 NFL Draft continues to impress. Leading the team with 6 tackles, Elliss was flying all over the place. When watching the guy with the ball, it seemed like #55 was always pretty close. Elliss got the opportunity to fill in for injured Alex Anzalone and despite playing in just his second NFL game, he showed that he is capable of being on the field when it matters. What is even more impressive is that he is doing most of this at a new position. In college at Idaho, Elliss played majority of his snaps off the edge as a pass rusher. In black and gold, he has been lining up at inside linebacker. That is not an easy transition, especially for a rookie, but Elliss is doing his damnedest to make it seem that way.
After an impressive performance in his first preseason game as a Saint vs the Vikings last week, Bridgewater came back down to Earth. HARD. On 5/12 passing for just 40 yards, he finished with an abysmal 16.0 QB rating. Bridgewater turned the ball over twice inside of the red-zone, first on a fumbled snap that he did not appear ready for, followed by an airmailed short pass off of the fingertips of Dwayne Washington that fell in to the hands of Chargers safety Jaylen Watkins at the goal line. Tre’Quan Smith and Emmanuel Butler both had to play defense on two separate plays, knocking the ball out of their defenders hands to prevent even more turnovers. Sean Payton said after the game that Bridgewater was sick and he regretted not taking him out earlier than he did, so all we can do is hope that whatever he was dealing with took a big toll on his performance. I am not ready to completely give up on any hope that Teddy could be the future quarterback for the Saints, but Sunday’s showing has to leave you at least a little nervous.
It was not a good day for Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi’s punt coverage unit. While Thomas Morstead was as impressive as always, the coverage was lacking, to say the least. With less than 60 seconds in the first half, Los Angeles seemed content on not stopping the clock, despite having three timeouts and a New Orleans fourth down coming up. The clock kept ticking inside of 30 seconds as the Saints lined up to punt the ball away. Morstead boomed a 55 yarder that Troymaine Pope caught inside his own 20 yard line, then bobbed and weaved his way through coverage for an 81 yard return touchdown with just :03 left on the clock. To put it simply, that just can not happen. Someone has to do their job and make a tackle on every punt, but given that situation when all they had to do was play it safe, break down, and get the return man on the ground, it was an absolute gut punch.
The tricky thing about doing this blog during the preseason is that limited snaps for players clashes with my goal to not overreact to one or two plays and put a guy on either the Saints or Sinners list. I have to bend that rule just a bit at times. Butler did not have a “bad” game, by any means, but he did not help his cause to make the final 53-man roster in the midst of big battle of talented receivers. In a 2-minute situation at the end of the first half, the Saints faced a 2nd and 18. Taysom Hill delivered a perfect strike to a wide open Butler who, at worst, would have been within two yards of a first down upon making the catch. Instead, Butler let it pop right off of his hands for a blatant drop. On 3rd and 18, Payton played it safe with a running play to set up a punt. That punt was returned 81 yards for a touchdown just 3 seconds before halftime. I am a big fan of Emmanuel Butler, so I hope he sees more opportunities over the final few weeks of the preseason. But, unfortunately, that drop that kick-started an ugly chain of events was not what he needed coming off of missing Week 1 of the preseason do to an injury.
That will do it for preseason Week 2, folks. Your New Orleans Saints will return to the field this Saturday, August 24th at 6:30 when they travel to the Meadowlands to square off with the New York Jets. Check back next week so we can do this all over again!