New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans: Saints Preseason Week 2 Game Preview
The Saints, who defeated the St. Louis Rams 26-24 a week ago, will be looking to make improvements in all phases of the game as they continue to prepare for their season opener at Atlanta on September 8.
In similar fashion to last week’s contest, a large number of Saints players should see the field in this one, as coach Sean Payton looks to trim his roster down as the preseason rolls along.
Like New Orleans, the Titans will be making their second preseason appearance after besting the Green Bay Packers 20-16 last Friday night. Tennessee is led by their new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who guided the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance in 2008.
The contest should be a hard-hitting, well-played exhibition, as both coaches attempt to ready their squads for the regular season.
Saints Week 1 Recap
The Saints opened their preseason with a narrow road win over the Rams, and there was no lack of positives for the team to build on going forward.
The dominating play of the New Orleans offensive line was particularly eye-opening. Despite the absence of starting guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, the Saints offensive front consistently opened up running lanes against the Rams defensive line and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the night.
Chief beneficiary of the dominance up front was running back Mark Ingram, who pounded out 83 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. While the fourth-year back took full advantage of the salty New Orleans offensive line, he also ran with purpose and intensity, powering through arm-tackles with ease on several occasions.
While starting quarterback Drew Brees sat out the contest with a strained oblique, the battle for the backup quarterback spot intensified. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and turned in a lackluster performance, tossing an ugly interception to Rams defensive end Chris Long in the first quarter.
McCown’s chief competition for the backup role, second-year signal-caller Ryan Griffin, played well in extended action. The Saints scored points on four out of five possessions with Griffin under center, as the former Tulane standout passed for 179 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, New Orleans appeared a bit sluggish at times, but second-year coordinator Rob Ryan's unit was able to make plays when it needed to and hung on for the victory. In particular, backup inside linebacker Ramon Humber stood out, and another solid outing from him this week could further solidify the Saints’ depth in their defensive middle.
Meanwhile, 2014 second-round draft pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste experienced a bump in the road in his first outing, as the rookie corner surrendered a 24-yard second-quarter touchdown to Rams receiver Stedman Bailey. The 6’3” Jean-Baptiste has a promising upside, but he'll need to focus on refining his ball skills throughout the remainder of the preseason.
News and Notes
Brees to Miss Second Consecutive Preseason Game?
For the second straight week, it appears that star signal-caller Drew Brees will probably sit out, as he continues to nurse a strained oblique. In his Tuesday practice report, ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett suggested it was unlikely that Brees will play against the Titans.
Hometown fans would no doubt prefer to see the perennial Pro Bowler make at least a brief appearance in the game on Friday, but the Saints are apparently playing it safe by holding their star quarterback out of action until he’s fully healed. The New Orleans offense, however, would be best served in the long run if Brees takes some snaps in at least one game this preseason.
Brandin Cooks Continues to Impress
Rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks hasn’t failed to live up to his lofty billing, as the 2014 first-round draft pick has been the toast of Saints training camp. He turned heads with a quality outing against St. Louis in his first preseason action, scoring on a 25-yard touchdown strike from Griffin.
As NFL.com writer Marc Sessler points out, the former Oregon State standout’s blazing speed and nifty moves in the open field will go a long way toward replacing the departed Darren Sproles in the New Orleans offense this season.
While Brees’ aforementioned oblique strain is the most prominent injury for the Saints at the moment, a significant amount of key players are also banged up.
Cornerback Champ Bailey returned to practice on Tuesday after missing most of training camp, according to Triplett. The 35-year-old is competing for a starting position on the outside of Rob Ryan’s defense, but he’ll need to get healthy and get some reps in if he’s to earn the job before the season opener.
Meanwhile, starting guard Ben Grubbs returned to teams workouts on Wednesday after missing over a week with a lower back injury. His status for Friday's game is still unknown.
There's still no sign of injured fullback Erik Lorig or linebacker Victor Butler, who have each missed over two weeks of camp with undisclosed injuries. Other injured players who did not practice on Wednesday include guard Jahri Evans, cornerback Patrick Robinson, wide receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker David Hawthorne.
Free agent safety acquisition Jairus Byrd and backup nose tackle John Jenkins, both of whom have spent portions of camp on the PUP list, took part in individual workouts on Tuesday. Neither has returned to full contact team practices, however.
Injury reports obtained via ESPN.com (h/t Mike Triplett).
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson vs Titans Linebackers
Following an impressive performance last week, Mark Ingram will be out to make another statement, this time against the Titans defense. The Saints running back will likely receive another eight to 10 touches, and it will be interesting to see if he’ll be able to continuously grind out yards between the tackles against the likes of Wesley Woodyard and the Tennessee linebacking corps.
While Ingram impressed last game, this week would be an opportune time for Khiry Robinson to turn in a statement-game of his own. The second-year back totaled 40 offensive yards against the Rams, and if he’s to push Ingram and Pierre Thomas for playing time this season, he needs to play well in games such as this one against the Titans.
Titans Offensive Tackles vs Saints Pass-Rushers
Granted, this matchup would be much more intriguing if it took place in the regular season, but it should still be fun to watch.
Tennessee tackles Michael Oher and Michael Roos will have their hands full when taking on Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette, but these showdowns will be short-lived due to the limited number of snaps each starter is likely to receive.
As for the reserves, 2014 New Orleans draft picks Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt are two young pass-rushers to keep an eye on, and the explosive rookie linebackers could spell trouble for Titans reserve quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger.
Saints X-Factor of the Week: Travaris Cadet
Often the forgotten man in a crowded backfield, Travaris Cadet is hoping to earn a roster spot this season with his contributions in the return game.
He gained just nine yards on eight carries as a running back against the Rams, and the time is ripe for him to tap into his full potential as a kick returner. He returned only one kickoff for 18 yards last week, but it won’t be a shock if he steps up and delivers big on Friday in the special teams department.
Unlike in the regular season, winning isn’t everything when it comes to the preseason. That being said, Sean Payton understands how important it is for his team to experience the thrill of victory on as many occasions as possible, and his club will be primed for a solid performance on Friday in front of the home crowd.
Tennessee may be a club on the rise with a first-year head coach, but it’s the Saints who possess the deeper, more talented roster, and they should come out on top in this early preseason contest.
Look for Ryan Griffin to continue to settle into a comfort zone under center and for New Orleans to once again churn out big chunks of yards on the ground en route to another win.
Prediction: Saints 27, Titans 17