Saints vs. Patriots: 3 Things to Watch in New Orleans Second Preseason Game

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Saints vs. Patriots: 3 Things to Watch in New Orleans Second Preseason Game
Jason Miller/Getty Images

On Sunday evening in Canton, Ohio the New Orleans Saints defeated the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 in the Hall of Fame Game. The game was the first on the NFL preseason schedule. 

Monday the team flew to New England to practice this week against the New England Patriots. They began practicing against one another Tuesday in Foxboro, Massachusetts. 

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees called Tuesday's practice a "great environment." The workouts in New England of course bring together two of the league's finest quarterbacks of all time. 

It also brings together two of the most successful franchises in the NFL over the past decade-plus. 

Speaking in relation to the Pats and Saints, Joe Vitt said after Tuesday's practice, "There are a lot of Hall of Famers out there right now." (via NewOrleansSaints.com)

He also talked about how each team has been so successful and as a result the focus of each team this week is to get better. It is less about competition and more about the teams preparing for the 2012 regular season. 

But the two teams will face off in a more formal setting Thursday night in Gillette Stadium at 6:30 PM CT for the Saints' second preseason game and the Pats' first. 

When they do there are a few things Saints fans ought to pay close attention to throughout the game. 

First, how does the team improve in the return game?

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Sure, Joseph Morgan, Travaris Cadet and the recently waived rookie corner Laron Scott each had impact returns. But Morgan and Scott also had difficulties fielding punts. 

Now that Scott is gone, one half of that problem ought to be figured out. But given his tremendous ability, Morgan is likely to open the season as the team's primary punt returner. As such, he must improve in fielding punts and give the team confidence in him in that regard. 

If he is unable to do so, the team may simply put Lance Moore back there and sacrifice some explosion for the assurance of maintaining possession. 

Second, how do the plethora of young receivers respond in their encore?

Sunday night almost every pass reception for the Saints was brought in by a player who was not on the roster a year ago. 

That includes Andy Tanner, Joseph Morgan, Courtney Roby (who was, but never played receiver) among others. Each showed they can play receiver in this league.

Morgan figures to be a lock for a final roster spot, but Tanner and Roby may not be (though Roby also showed why he maintains a roster spot after starring on special teams Sunday night). 

Rookie running back Travaris Cadet led the team with eight receptions and 80 yards. By all accounts he was the best player on the field for the Saints on Sunday night. He came into camp seeming to be a realistic challenger for the fourth running back spot on the team. 

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Nothing he did Sunday night eliminated that possibility. If anything he made a stronger case. Thursday night against New England is just another great chance for the former Appalachian State Mountaineer to make a case for a final roster spot. 

Third and finally, how does the defense continue to improve? 

Sunday night the team looked like a rocket shot out of NASA space launch. The defensive line was all over the place, mostly in the offensive backfield and the face of the quarterback. 

The linebackers flew all over the field cleaning up any junk the line hadn't already handled. And the secondary looked 2009-ish. 

It appears the team is comfortable with Patrick Robinson, Johnny Patrick and Marquis Johnson as the starting corners for the majority of the preseason. That means Elbert Mack and Corey White are fifth and sixth on the depth chart there. 

But it's undeniable that the Patriots provide quite a different test on the secondary. With Tom Brady and a multitude of weapons to throw to, the Patriots are one of the toughest passing teams in the league to contain. 

The Saints will learn a lot about the state of their secondary Thursday night. And that's a good thing as the team prepares for the regular season. It is one of the team's greatest issues in 2011. 

Stopping Brady and the Pats would give the team more confidence than it needs as it enters the 2012 regular season. 

 

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