The Saints are trying to put their offseason distractions behind them and forge forward in an attempt to go deep into the playoffs again.
The Texans boast a formidable defense and they've gotten their starting quarterback back.
It all adds up to what should be a competitive atmosphere at the Superdome on Saturday.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
When: Saturday, August 25 at 8 p.m. ET
Listen: 610 AM/100.3 FM/1010 AM (Texas), WWL 870 AM (New Orleans)
Betting Line: Saints -3, Over/Under 45 (via ScoresAndOdds.com)
What's At Stake?
The third game of the preseason is usually the most important because generally it's the final time the starters get significant time together on the field before the regular season.
For the Texans, Matt Schaub getting back on track after losing time due to injury last season is critical. The team has the defense to contend for the Super Bowl—it just needs Schaub on board. Last season, the Texans made it to the AFC divisional playoffs despite playing then-rookie quarterback T.J. Yates from Week 12 on.
Schaub looked very good against the San Francisco 49ers last week, completing 11 of 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in the Texans' 20-9 victory.
We all know Drew Brees and the Saints can score. It will once again be up to the defense to determine if the Saints make a run at the Super Bowl this season.
The front four isn't particularly impressive, which means defensive coordinator Steve Stagnuolo will likely have to employ a blitz-heavy strategy in order to make a difference on defense. The strides the defense makes before the regular season begins cannot be overstated.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
DL Ra'Shon Harris—Triceps—OUT for season
WR Andre Johnson—Groin—Probable for start of regular season
DL J.J. Watt—Elbow—Doubtful for preseason, questionable for start of regular season
RB Darren Sproles—Knee—Doubtful for preseason, probable for start of regular season
LB David Hawthorne—Knee—OUT for preseason, doubtful for start of regular season
LB Curtis Lofton—Ankle—OUT, probable for start of regular season
WR Adrian Arrington—Knee—Doubtful for start of regular season
DB Jabari Greer—Hernia—OUT for preseason, questionable for start of regular season
DB Patrick Robinson—Shoulder—Questionable for start of regular season
What They're Saying
An interesting positional battle worth monitoring in Houston is veteran Rashad Butler and second-year pro Derek Newton at right tackle.
Both are vying to be the next starter after Eric Winston was released in March and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Butler, who missed most of last season with a severe triceps tendon injury, said, via HoustonTexans.com:
I know if I was able to not get injured and if I was there throughout the whole entire season, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be having this battle that I’m having now, but I have no problems with the battle whatsoever, no issues.
The Texans allowed a respectable 33 sacks last season.
Texans Player to Watch: Matt Schaub, QB
No question, Matt Schaub is key to the Texans going all the way this season (which is a real possibility, mind you). He had a 96.8 QB rating in Houston last season, throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns to six interceptions in 10 games. The Texans averaged 19.0 points in the eight games Schaub didn't play (through the playoffs).
Saints Player to Watch: Cameron Jordan, DE
Big things were expected out of first-round pick Cameron Jordan last season, but he didn't quite make the impact the Saints were expecting, notching 31 tackles and one sack.
This year, however, Spagnuolo is using his versatility as a weapon, lining him up at defensive end and defensive tackle in various packages.
Perhaps Jordan can make more of a difference in Spagnuolo's schemes this season. His development throughout the preseason is worth watching.
Key Matchup: Saints Secondary vs. Texans Passing Attack
The New Orleans secondary allowed 259.8 passing yards per game last season, third-most in the NFL. The defense also allowed 24 passing touchdowns while notching just nine interceptions. Part of the problem was that the Saints had to blitz a lot because of a mundane front four, leaving them open to attack, but the secondary wasn't exactly world-class, either.
Schaub averaged 247.9 passing yards per game last season, and that was a down campaign for him. He'll be looking to assert himself in New Orleans. Even a marginal improvement on defense for the Saints could mean a trip to the Super Bowl.
Who will win on Saturday?
Prediction: Texans 27, Saints 24
I expect Houston's defense to make it harder to score for Brees and Co. and the Saints still have issues in the secondary and rushing the passer from the line.
If the Texans scored 20 points against the 49ers, I could see them scoring an extra touchdown against the Saints. Schaub is starting to get in the groove for the regular season.
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