Through three preseason games and an extra look at the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game, it’s abundantly clear that transitioning to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense isn’t going as planned.
The Saints beat the Houston Texans 34-27 in a track meet Saturday, but the win just showed that quarterback Drew Brees and the offense are going to have to bail out the defense frequently in 2012 if New Orleans plans to make a playoff run.
Last season’s 13th-ranked defense was supposed to take a step forward under Spagnuolo, not to mention being boosted by new additions like Curtis Lofton, Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne. But the unit struggled mightily against Jacksonville with poor tackling last week, and had no answers to Houston’s offense Saturday.
Houston started the game with an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, taking just under four minutes to carve the Saints defense. The Texans' second drive was aided by great field position, but Houston still moved quickly and efficiently, scoring on five plays to take a two-touchdown lead.
A Keshawn Martin fumble on Houston’s third drive—after the Texans drove 54 yards on seven plays—was the only saving grace for New Orleans, and a turning point in the game.
It wasn’t all inept play and Houston dominance over the Saints defense Saturday. There were positive aspects on defense for New Orleans.
Here’s a little of the good, the bad and the ugly from the Saints defense against Houston.
The Saints had six sacks Saturday and that might be the best news of the preseason.
New Orleans struggled last year at getting to the quarterback, and one of the focal points of training and scheme installation during the offseason was getting to opposing passers. It worked against Houston as six different players tallied sacks.
The Saints also forced three Texans fumbles in the game, all recovered by New Orleans. When the Saints defense is getting to the quarterback and wreaking havoc on ball-carriers, good things should happen.
The Texans' first-team offense moved the ball at will against the Saints. There were two drives of eight plays where Houston drove more than 60 yards to score. Had Houston not been helped by great field position (not the defenses problem) three times, the Texans may have broken off more yards Saturday.
There were two distinct instances of the Saints defensive line being exploited in the first quarter—both on cutback plays by Houston running backs.
Fullback James Casey made a heck of a lead block on Will Herring to give Ben Tate room to cut back to his right and make it through the Saints line. Roman Harper made the tackle eight yards later in a very open field.
Later in the first quarter, Arian Foster broke off 18 yards on a one-cut move through the defensive line.
He started heading outside but saw an opening to cut back through the defensive line and was then off to the races through the middle of the Saints defense. The hole was gaping and the Saints first contact after Foster broke through the line was Harper in the secondary.
When Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was leading the Texans' first-team offense down the field at will, he was doing so with a pretty balanced attack. Even though the play calling was balanced, Schaub was throwing the ball all over the field.
Schaub was 15-of-18 for 194 yards and a touchdown in his two quarters of play. He hit 10 different receivers and had five plays of 15 yards or more.
Cornerback Patrick Robinson did a fine job of containing Schaub’s lethal weapon in Andre Johnson, but there were breakdowns elsewhere.
Garrett Graham caught the biggest pass of the opening drive, and he did so with a cushion of at least 10 yards on both sides.
Graham simply sailed down the seam from the 27-yard line and caught the ball at the 6-yard line. Free safety Malcolm Jenkins stayed too far to the inside while Johnny Patrick didn’t release quickly enough from his main-coverage responsibility (mainly because Schaub looked him off the intended route beautifully).
The result was a huge hole for Graham to catch a 26-yard pass and set up Houston’s first score one play later.