New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts: Grades for Each Saints Unit
For the Saints, the outing proved to be their most impressive showing of the preseason. New Orleans dominated the game for the majority of the first half, as both squads gave extensive playing time to their starting units.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees made his first appearance of the preseason, and he didn’t disappoint with a two-touchdown performance. Despite the fact that he hadn’t seen any game action, Brees was far from tentative, as he aggressively advanced the ball down the field and sometimes attempted to force the ball into tight coverage.
The Saints' starting signal-caller led his team to touchdown drives on two out of three possessions.
New Orleans led 20-10 at the half, but the Colts backup units rallied to make a game of it in the second stanza.
Despite their victorious outing, the Saints continued their preseason-long bout with miscues. New Orleans was undoubtedly sharper and more focused than it was last week, but coach Sean Payton's squad was still flagged for 84 yards in penalties, whereas the Colts were only hit for 14 yards. On the night, New Orleans accumulated 10 penalties, which gives it a total of 40 through three preseason games.
Mistakes aside, the first half was an impressive display of dominance on both sides of the ball, and the Saints are still perfect in the 2014 preseason.
Following are postgame report card grades for the Saints following their win over the Colts, complete with a final grade on the last slide.
In his first game action of the preseason, Drew Brees enjoyed an efficient, productive night, going 9-for-15 through the air for 128 yards and two scores in just under a quarter of work.
Brees engineered two touchdown drives of 80 yards against the Colts' No. 1 defense, and although he wasn't on the money with every single throw, he performed well for his first game back.
Backup Luke McCown didn't have as much success through the air as he did a week ago, but he showed that he still has some juice left in his 33-year-old legs. McCown totaled 34 rushing yards on three scampers into the Colts secondary, which almost made up for his inaccurate night throwing the football (3-for-10).
As for Ryan Griffin, the second-year signal-caller turned in another respectable performance in the second half, although he heaved a deep ball into coverage for an interception while standing in his own end zone.
Mark Ingram delivered another solid performance, and the former first-round pick continues to assert himself as the Saints' primary ball-carrier. Ingram rushed eight times for 46 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry, and he once again demonstrated a willingness to finish off runs with authority.
Pierre Thomas turned in his best game of the preseason, as he assumed his familiar role as a receiving threat out of the backfield. Thomas finished with 64 receiving yards, and he executed one Brees screen pass to perfection for a 19-yard gain in the first quarter.
Travaris Cadet had an active day with six carries for 31 yards, while Khiry Robinson endured a disappointing outing with only 21 yards on eight carries. Robinson appeared sluggish hitting the hole at times, as Ingram further separated himself from the second-year back out of West Texas A&M.
Fullback Austin Johnson inserted his name into the postgame stat sheet with a three-yard touchdown catch from Brees, but his performance wasn't enough to earn his fellow backs an "A."
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Saints quarterbacks spread the ball around to 11 different receivers Saturday night, but only three of them were wideouts.
Tight ends were a big part of the New Orleans passing game, as Benjamin Watson and Jimmy Graham combined for 58 receiving yards with Brees at the offensive helm.
When Brees needed to convert on two third-down plays in the first quarter, he looked to the always reliable Marques Colston, who appeared lighter and in better shape than at any point last season.
The Saints receivers, while productive, at times experienced difficulty getting open against the Colts secondary. The group was serviceable but not spectacular against Indianapolis.
While most eyes were focused on Brees in his return to action, the New Orleans offensive line featured two more starters getting their first playing time of the season.
Pro Bowl guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans returned to action on Saturday in Indianapolis, where they teamed with center Jonathan Goodwin to turn in a quality performance against nose tackle Josh Chapman and the Colts defensive line.
Grubbs, Evans and Goodwin were impressive in pass protection for the bulk of the first quarter, and they also flexed their road-grading muscles, as they often cleared wide running lanes for Ingram.
Left tackle Terron Armstead was badly beaten for a sack in the second quarter, however, thereby bringing down the group's overall grade for the night.
The Colts offensive starters remained in the game longer than the Saints first-team offense, and as a result, most of New Orleans' starting defenders stayed on the field until halftime.
Up front, the Saints had their most dominant performance of the preseason, as they stoned the Indianapolis rushing attack for the majority of the first half. Quarterback Andrew Luck managed to escape the relentless pursuit for long enough to rip off a 16-yard run, but for the most part, Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks and Company stepped up and delivered on Saturday.
New Orleans had three sacks and five tackles for loss on the night, and although their play dropped off once the starters were replaced, the Saints defensive linemen receive a well-earned grade for their performance.
After a lackluster performance a week ago, the New Orleans linebacking corps improved its play against Indianapolis.
Rookie draft pick Ronald Powell led the way with six tackles, but it was Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber who had the most impressive outings.
Hawthorne made a big tackle after storming through the gap on a key 1st-and-goal play late in the second quarter. The stop would ignite the first of two Saints' goal-line stands in the game.
Outside linebacker Junior Galette received a second-quarter scare as he left the game with an apparent injury, but the pass-rushing extraordinaire would later return.
Like the other defensive positions, the Saints experienced a decided drop-off once the starters were replaced, but Kyle Knox enjoyed a solid game for the second straight week.
For the Saints secondary, merely having certain players in the lineup was a victory in itself.
Much ballyhooed free-agent acquisition Jairus Byrd made his first appearance in the New Orleans defensive backfield, and it didn't take long for the former Buffalo Bill to show off his explosive athleticism when he came up for a first-quarter tackle in the flat.
Also making his New Orleans debut was 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, who saw action with the Saints' No. 2 defense after missing most of training camp. Cornerback Patrick Robinson also returned from an injury, and the 2010 first-round draft pick appears to have seized the starting spot opposite mainstay Keenan Lewis.
Speaking of Lewis, the Saints' No. 1 cover man had an excellent performance, as did safety Kenny Vaccaro, who snagged an interception.
The secondary was far from perfect, however, especially in the second half, as second-round draft choice Stanley Jean-Baptiste and undrafted rookie Brian Dixon both struggled in coverage. Dixon did, however, make an exceptional catch on an interception of Matt Hasselbeck.
The Saints kick coverage units struggled in their first two outings, but their showing in Saturday's contest marked a bit of an improvement.
New Orleans yielded a 24-yard runback to Daniel Herron on the Colts' lone opportunity for a kickoff return, while the Saints punt coverage team stymied the Colts for negative yards on two returns.
The Saints were perfect in the kicking department, as Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke combined to boot three field goals in as many attempts.
Travaris Cadet again failed to get anything going in the punt return game, and Payton elected to give Jairus Byrd a couple of opportunities in the latter stages of the contest.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead was his usual, reliable self, as the sixth-year man averaged 43 yards on four punts and boomed a 53-yarder.
Overall, the special teams showing was respectable, but New Orleans needs to receive some production from its punt return squad sometime soon.
Sean Payton watched helplessly as his squad committed an eye-popping 22 penalties in last week's game, and the Saints head man wasn't about to tolerate another such comedy of errors.
New Orleans did manage to rack up 10 penalties for 84 yards this time out, but there was a noted decrease in the amount of careless miscues by the Saints, especially from the starting offense.
The Saints appeared to have a solid game plan from a play-calling standpoint, and Payton did an admirable job in his handling of Brees' playing time.
After last week's surplus of blunders, the Saints appeared determined to deliver a better performance on Saturday against the Colts, and for the most part, they succeeded.
With several starters and key players receiving their first significant minutes of the preseason, New Orleans was able to get a good look at the core of its 2014 squad in action against a quality, playoff-caliber opponent.
The Saints starters took care of business in the first half before the Colts fought back into the game in the second half against New Orleans' reserves. This did not, however, diminish a workmanlike performance by the Saints.
Granted, there is certainly room for improvement, but after Saturday night's win, the Saints have to feel good about where they now stand.
Final Grade: B