New Orleans Saints vs. Baltimore Ravens: Saints Preseason Game 4 Preview
The Saints are undefeated through three exhibition games, having just dispatched the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the dress rehearsal.
While winning is still a major goal, Saints coach Sean Payton will likely be most pleased with an injury-free outing in Thursday night’s contest. As Payton readies his club for its Sept. 7 season opener against the divisional rival Atlanta Falcons, having a largely healthy roster at his disposal is of great importance.
Other points of interest for this matchup are the position battles still going on. Final roster cuts are drawing near, and the Saints will have some big decisions to make shortly following the game’s conclusion.
The competition for roster spots at wide receiver is particularly intense, as Joseph Morgan, Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones will get one final opportunity to show what they can do at game speed. These five wideouts could be competing for three spots, maybe four. Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are all presumed safe.
As for the Ravens, John Harbaugh’s squad is also 3-0 this preseason and is coming off a 23-17 win over the Washington Redskins. The Ravens’ trip to New Orleans this week won’t be their last visit of the season, as they’ll be returning for a regular-season clash with the Saints on Nov. 24.
The following is a preview of Thursday night’s contest, which kicks off at 7 p.m. CST in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Week 3 Recap
For the second time in as many tries this preseason, the Saints were victorious on the road last Saturday night with a 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Week 3 is typically the preseason game where the starters see the most action, and this seemed to be the case for both squads on Saturday. For the Saints, a handful of key starters made their preseason debuts in Indianapolis, including quarterback Drew Brees and safety Jairus Byrd.
Brees, while not yet in midseason form, was sharp and efficient. He led the Saints on 80-yard touchdown drives on two out of his three possessions under center, and he spread the ball around to a host of receivers.
Byrd, who signed a sizable free-agent deal with New Orleans this offseason, made his first appearance in a Saints uniform. He joined a New Orleans defense that dominated the Colts’ No. 1 offense for the better part of the first half.
Indianapolis' starting offense found it nearly impossible to run the ball against a stout Saints defensive front, and quarterback Andrew Luck managed just over 100 yards passing.
The New Orleans running game was particularly effective against the Colts, as starting guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans also saw their first action of the preseason. The Pro Bowl duo was dominant in the running game, as they paved lanes for starting running back Mark Ingram in impressive fashion against a formidable Indianapolis defensive line.
The Saints took a 20-10 lead into the locker room and were able to fend off a strong second-half effort from the Colts’ reserve units.
The win marked the Saints’ most impressive performance of the preseason, and it should serve as a confidence-booster as they head into the regular season with lofty goals.
News and Notes
Deciding which players are to be given their walking papers is a crucial part of every team’s preseason process. As Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com reports, the Saints released several players this week, and the most notable cut was outside linebacker Victor Butler. The former Dallas Cowboy was signed as a heralded free agent in 2013 but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
He had high hopes for a breakout season in 2014, but he’s been unimpressive throughout training camp and preseason. Fellow outside ‘backer Parys Haralson has clearly outperformed Butler, whose release can hardly be said to come as a shock at this point.
Other Notable Cuts
Other cuts of note this week included cornerback Rod Sweeting and inside linebacker Kevin Reddick. Both players made the Saints roster last season, but they have been unable to separate themselves amid heated competition in camp this year.
Sweeting had a particularly tough row to hoe this preseason, as he was forced to compete with the likes of Keenan Lewis, Patrick Robinson and Corey White, in addition to newcomers Champ Bailey and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
As for Reddick, the second–year pro out of North Carolina showed some promise last year in the preseason, but he was outplayed this year by newcomer Kyle Knox.
The Saints appear to be the healthiest they’ve been at any point this preseason. According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, there weren’t many absences from Tuesday's practice.
Most notable among the injured is starting wide receiver Kenny Stills, who’s out with a quad injury. If Stills doesn’t play against Baltimore, that should give the aforementioned competing wideouts even more opportunities to make their cases for roster spots.
Also missing practice on Tuesday were safeties Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball, outside linebacker Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig, who has missed most of training camp after signing a free-agent deal this offseason.
Matchups to Watch
Mark Ingram vs. Ravens Linebackers
Granted, this enticing matchup may be over in the blink of an eye, as most starters are not expected to play much in this one. It should still make for a tremendously physical encounter, however, and it will be even more interesting when these two squads hook up for real on Nov. 24.
Ingram has established himself as the Saints’ primary between-the-tackles ball-carrier, and he’s made a habit of finishing off runs with great intensity throughout this preseason.
Led by Daryl Smith on the inside and Terrell Suggs on the outside, the beefy Ravens linebacking corps features a nice blend of youth and experience. The New Orleans offensive line must, of course, do its part in the blocking department, but the sheer physicality of Ingram against the Baltimore ‘backers should be fun to watch while it lasts.
Luke McCown vs. Ryan Griffin
This matchup pits two Saints against each other. While such battles are commonplace in preseason contests, this one is especially important.
McCown and Griffin have dueled throughout training camp for the role of backup quarterback, and neither of these two competing signal-callers has clearly outperformed the other.
The 33-year-old McCown has the decided edge in experience. He has started nine NFL games in his career, and he served as Brees’ backup a season ago. He has made his mark on this preseason with his improvised scrambles that have resulted in big plays for the Saints offense.
While McCown is the elder statesman of the two, Griffin has made significant strides since his rookie season. The second-year pro out of Tulane possesses impressive mobility in his own right, but he’s been most effective when throwing from the pocket. The 6’5” signal-caller continues to demonstrate a willingness to stand tall and advance the ball downfield, which is always welcome in Sean Payton’s pass-heavy offense.
Look for both McCown and Griffin to continue to be aggressive in the passing game on Thursday night, as they duke it out again for the final time this preseason.
With the 2014 season opener fast approaching on Sept. 7, the New Orleans Saints starters will likely find it difficult to get overly hyped for this final exhibition contest.
For many reserves on Payton’s squad, however, Thursday night’s game in the Superdome holds a great deal of importance. Securing a roster spot is the No. 1 priority for these players, and their performances against the Ravens will likely factor into their fates.
As for the scoreboard, both teams would love to finish the preseason undefeated, but it’s the Saints who will emerge the victor. Look for Ryan Griffin to have a huge day through the air and for the New Orleans pass rush to overwhelm the Baltimore offensive line.
Prediction: Saints 24, Ravens 14