New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts: Saints Preseason Week 3 Game Preview
Despite the two wins, New Orleans’ play has been, at times, sloppy and undisciplined. In fact, the Saints were flagged for a total of 32 penalties in their first two outings, and they will undoubtedly be looking to cut down on the miscues against the Colts.
On paper, New Orleans possesses a deep roster that doesn’t appear to have many glaring holes on either side of the ball.
It sometimes takes several outings at game speed for an NFL offense or defense to achieve cohesion as a unit, however, and New Orleans isn’t likely to commit as many errors this time around, particularly on offense.
Brees has been hampered by an oblique injury throughout much of training camp, and his return to the New Orleans lineup should provide a big boost to a Saints offense that draws from a considerable well of talented weapons.
The Colts are expected to contend for the AFC South division crown this year, and they’ll be looking to measure themselves against a Saints squad that has equally high hopes for the coming season.
Following is a preview of Saturday’s matchup in Indianapolis, complete with a final score prediction.
Week 2 Recap
Last Friday night marked the 2014 home opener for the Saints, and coach Sean Payton’s club held serve for a 31-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.
First and foremost on Payton’s plate this week was his team’s surplus of errors committed against the Titans. The Saints accumulated a whopping 184 yards on 22 penalties, as Payton himself took blame for his squad’s sloppy play.
New Orleans did some good things as well in the contest, as the home-standing defense collected five takeaways from the visiting Titans. Second-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit also registered four sacks, but this stat was overshadowed by strong passing performances from Tennessee quarterbacks Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger.
While the two Titans signal-callers deserve some credit for making accurate throws in the short passing game, Ryan’s group as a whole is capable of better play.
The Saints’ defensive backfield produced two of the game’s bright spots, beginning with strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who forced two fumbles in the first half. Reserve safety Vinnie Sunseri made an impact in the second half, as the rookie draft pick out of Alabama stepped up to deliver some big hits along with an interception of Mettenberger.
The rest of the New Orleans defense was underwhelming, however, and the group will face an even bigger challenge this Saturday in the form of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Offensively, the Saints once again performed well last week, as quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin directed scoring drives. McCown, who started the game, did most of his damage outside the pocket on improvised scrambles, while Griffin provided a strong, steady presence as a pocket passer.
Both signal-callers will look to build on their successful outings this Saturday, but they’ll both have to wait in line, as Brees will get things started against the Colts defense.
News and Notes
The Debut of Byrd
Saturday’s contest will mark the long-awaited debut of Saints safety Jairus Byrd. The 2014 free-agent acquisition has been sidelined for most of training camp due to back surgery, but he’s expected to play against the Colts, according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com.
A three-time Pro Bowler in Buffalo, Byrd inked a lucrative six-year deal with New Orleans as a free agent this offseason, and his arrival doesn’t come with any lack of fanfare. Much is expected this season of the rangy free safety, who racked up 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his five years with the Bills.
Graham Fined for Dunks
When the NFL passed a rule against dunking the ball across the goalpost crossbar this offseason, most thoughts probably turned to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who has made a post-touchdown tradition out of the practice.
Despite the new rule, Graham didn't show any signs of altering his routine against the Titans last Friday, as the former Miami Hurricanes basketball player threw down two big dunks following scoring plays.
The NFL would get the last laugh, however, as the New Orleans tight end has been fined $30,000 for his antics against Tennessee, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
As the regular season approaches, the Saints’ injury situation appears to be improving.
According to ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett, cornerback Champ Bailey finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel, as the 16-year veteran took part in full-team practice on Wednesday for the first time since July 31.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who left last week’s game with a foot injury, also returned to practice on Wednesday, as did defensive end Akiem Hicks.
In other good news for the Saints, cornerback Patrick Robinson was back on the practice field Wednesday after battling an undisclosed injury. It remains to be seen whether or not Robinson, Bailey and Lewis will play Saturday, but the eventual return of the trio will undoubtedly strengthen a depleted group of corners.
Starting guard Ben Grubbs was absent from practice, however, as was fullback Erik Lorig, who’s been out for the bulk of camp. Also missing from practice were outside linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt, as was wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who is recovering from a stomach virus.
All injury reports obtained via ESPN.com (h/t Mike Triplett).
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Andrew Luck vs. Jairus Byrd
Byrd’s ability to cover ground in the deep secondary has been well documented since his time in Buffalo.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Andrew Luck often looks to advance the ball down the field aggressively, and these two could provide some interesting battles in the deep passing game.
In wideout T.Y. Hilton, Luck has the deep threat to strike fear into opposing secondaries, and despite Byrd’s reputation, it’s hard to imagine the Colts quarterback not testing the Saints with at least a couple of deep balls.
This matchup would obviously be much more intriguing if it were carried out over the course of a full game instead of a quarter or two, but the battle should still be worth the watch.
Saints Offensive Line vs. Colts Defensive Line
In its first game at St. Louis, New Orleans’ offensive line repeatedly fired out on the Rams’ defensive front to the tune of 5.1 rushing yards per carry.
The unit came out in similar fashion at home last week against the Titans on the first drive, but the group seemed to take its foot off the gas in the second quarter and was no longer getting a definitive push at the line of scrimmage.
The Saints’ offensive front re-established itself later in the second half, but the intensity the group had displayed against St. Louis and against Tennessee’s starters wasn’t the same.
With starting running back Mark Ingram continuing to finish off runs in a physical manner, look for Terron Armstead and New Orleans’ big uglies to try and take control of the line of scrimmage early on against the likes of Art Jones, Josh Chapman and the formidable Colts’ defensive front.
Saints X-Factor of the Week: Wide Receiver Joseph Morgan
There’s no shortage of competition among the New Orleans wide receivers, but there is a shortage of roster spots. While Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are all safe, a handful of other Saints wideouts are competing for limited spots on the final roster. These include Joseph Morgan, Nick Toon, Robert Meachem, Andy Tanner, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones.
Morgan separated himself from the group with three catches for 108 yards last week, and another solid performance against the Colts would all but lock up a roster spot for the fourth-year pro.
Although preparing for the season-opening contest against the Atlanta Falcons is the primary focus for the Saints, winning games, even in the preseason, is a positive, and New Orleans will try to extend its preseason winning streak in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Often dubbed the “dress rehearsal,” the third game is typically when starting units receive more minutes than in any other game in the preseason.
Sean Payton’s Saints squad will attempt to establish control of both sides of the line of scrimmage for an extended period of time on Saturday, while at the same time reducing its number of penalties.
The going won’t be easy, as the Colts are a talented team in their own right, but with Drew Brees and Jairus Byrd finally in the lineup, the Saints will start to show signs of a team expected to make a playoff run in 2014.
Prediction: Saints 27, Colts 23.