In tonight’s preseason action against the Vikings, the Saints may not have won but the result of the game was mostly irrelevant. This was about finding talent throughout the 90-man roster and seeing these guys in live action for the first time. There was lot to be encouraged, but still a fair amount of concern in important areas as well.
Let’s start with the positives. Obviously Teddy Bridgewater was a huge highlight in this game completing 14 of 19 passes for 134 yards a touchdown and a 110.4 passer rating. His 73.6% completion rate was really impressive as was his decision making, processing speed, and ball placement. Check out Dom’s look at each of the QB performances here. Taysom didn’t stand out as much as a passer but did add a touchdown to his stat line thanks to some impressive YAC work by Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Humphrey struggled a bit throughout Training Camp but with Emmanuel Butler seeing no time in this game, Humphrey picked the right time to show up. The Saints’ only turnover will also be credited to Taysom, but it was more on the hands off Dan Arnold. Or off the hands of Dan Arnold more appropriately. Arnold did also catch Bridgewater’s touchdown.
The run game looked good as well. Latavius Murray showed why the Saints pursued him after losing Mark Ingram running for 4.7 yards per his few carries and adding three catches for 22 yards as well. Dwayne Washington and Devine Ozigbo continued the backfield’s success pounding for yardage and as well. Washington got the most looks out the backfield with eight carries and 36 yards but Ozigbo proved efficient with his limited looks averaging 6.7 yards per carry on the ground and gathering up a nice catch out the backfield, making a nice move for a first day.
Most of what’s not to like came from the defensive side of the ball but first . we should address the only major Saints injury at this time, Ulrick John who laid out on the ground for a while before walking gingerly to the injury tent. John is in competition for a spot in the offensive line’s depth.
Now for the defensive side of the ball, the biggest list of concerns came from the defensive line which hardly created any pressure and left massive holes in the run game. Allowing 213 rushing yards and an average of 7.9 yards per carry on the ground including a 64 yard touchdown where the D-Line was simply erased. The defense also struggled mightily to tackle ball carriers as a whole. With no sack and hardly a hit on the Vikings QBs, concerns around the defensive line depth are even more visible. Expect that to be a huge part of the Saints’ focus as they go back to the practice field on Saturday. The Saints also allowed some big plays in the passing game as well allowing passes of +20 yards to four different Vikings receivers and a team QB rating of 135.9.
It wasn’t all gloom on the defensive side of the ball, however. Kayvon Webster might have gotten flagged for a pass interference penalty that didn’t get overturned, but his play was a solid one and he made a great play on the ball. He also stood out in special teams always showing up around the ball or making a tackle on his own as well. Kaden Elliss was another name that stood out making a few tackles and flying around the field. He played a few different positions as well along the second level in middle and at SAM. Mario Edwards Jr. was just about the only highlight of the defensive line as he showed some pressure and also got his hand up to knock down a pass.
However, above all else, special teams might be one of the biggest highlights this game. For once, the Saints not only have a viable candidate at kick and punt returner, they may actually have a couple. Deonte Harris looked fantastic averaging 30 yards per kick return and Cyril Grayson bested him on his two returns averaging 30.5. This was without even seeing Marcus Sherels for an undisclosed reason. Grayson also added to his bid for the 53-man roster with two catches for 32 yards including a beautiful back-shoulder pass from Teddy Bridgewater and would have had a chunk of rushing yards were it not for a false start. Wil Lutz also deserves a shoutout going 4/4 including a 52 yarder. Feels good to have a kicker in New Orleans the team can rely on.
Next week against the Chargers and throughout the week at practice, we’ll be looking for the Saints to improve upon this showing’s tackling and defensive line play. The rust from the first-team defense to open the game was discouraging as well, but we saw the same display in the preseason last year so we’re not hitting the panic button on that at all.
Yeah, it’s preseason and team-wise we’ve learned nothing. However, these are important games for the evaluation for the depth of the team. The Saints’ next preseason game is on Sunday, August 18th at the Los Angeles Chargers at 3:00 PM Central time.