Patriots vs. Saints: Previewing New Orleans' Preseason Week 2 Matchup
The Saints, who dropped a close one to the Baltimore Ravens a week ago, will take the field in front of their home crowd for the first time since December 2014.
Head coach Sean Payton’s club is looking to make major improvements after last week’s outing. New Orleans’ first-team units were outplayed by the Ravens on both sides of the ball, although the Saints’ reserves came in and made a game of it.
This week, New Orleans will clash with the defending Super Bowl champions, and the home team will attempt to make strides in preparation for its September 13 season opener.
Read on for a preview of this Week 2 preseason matchup, which kicks off on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Week 1 Recap
New Orleans got off to a shaky start in last week’s game, as Baltimore took a 17-0 lead against the Saints’ starting offensive and defensive units.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s starting group was hit with a barrage of injuries in the opening minutes, as cornerback Brandon Browner, nickel corner Delvin Breaux and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe all left the contest in the first quarter.
The second and third teams for the Saints came in and closed the gap on the Ravens, however, and New Orleans eventually grabbed a 27-23 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the contest.
Unfortunately for the Saints, their lead was quite brief, as the Ravens put together an 80-yard scoring march in the closing moments to claim a 30-27 victory.
Penalties were particularly damaging to the Saints’ cause, as they collected 16 flags for 143 penalty yards.
Despite the fact that the Saints suffered multiple injuries and committed excessive miscues, numerous New Orleans players managed to turn in quality performances, including running back Khiry Robinson, tight end Josh Hill, safety Jamarca Sanford, linebacker Ramon Humber and wideout Willie Snead.
In addition, quarterbacks Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin and Garrett Grayson all had nice outings, as all three signal-callers led the Saints on touchdown drives.
News and Notes
Saints Hold Joint Practices With Patriots
New Orleans welcomed some distinguished guests to training camp at The Greenbrier resort this week, as the Patriots came in for joint practice sessions.
The arrival of Tom Brady and Co. brought on a heavier-than-usual workload for the Saints' starters, according to Joel A. Erickson of the Advocate. Quarterback Drew Brees threw 22 passes in team workouts with the Patriots on Wednesday, dwarfing his normal number of throws.
Payton explained the benefits of the joint practices.
"There are a ton of things we need to work on, and when you get a different team, I think it prevents you from kind of falling into that going-through-the-motions routine that can happen," he said, per Erickson. "I think it can bring out the best in a player and help build confidence, and it can do a lot of things."
Brees Set to See 1st Action of Preseason
After sitting out the opener in Baltimore, Brees is ready to make his first appearance of the preseason on Saturday in the Superdome. According to ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett, the star signal-caller said he expects to play his typical amount against the Patriots.
"The expectation for this week, I think, is just like any second preseason game when you go back in history with us. It’s typically a quarter, quarter-and-a-half," Brees said. "See how things go, see how many plays we get in that amount of time."
The 36-year-old is entering his 10th season as the field general of Payton’s offense, and he’s looking to lead the Saints to the playoffs for the sixth time since his 2006 arrival in New Orleans.
The Saints entered last week’s contest as a relatively healthy football team, but by the game’s end, the injuries had stacked up.
One of the key players who left the contest was nickel corner Delvin Breaux. According to NOLA.com’s Katherine Terrell, Breaux returned to practice on Thursday and participated in the walkthrough and individual portions of the session.
Running back C.J. Spiller, defensive end Anthony Spencer, safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jamarca Sanford were not at practice, according to Terrell. In addition, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Ramon Humber and Ronald Powell were absent.
Also mentioned in Terrell’s injury report were cornerback Brandon Browner and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Neither starter practiced, but both were able to do rehab exercises.
Players to Watch
The wide receiver position has produced one of the more competitive races in Saints camp, as a collection of wideouts are contending for the coveted No. 3 spot behind starters Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston.
One of the leading candidates to nab the role is Brandon Coleman. The second-year former practice squad player boasts extraordinary size for the position at 6’6” and 225 pounds, and he’s drawn comparisons to Colston since he signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Coleman didn’t see action with the first unit last week and failed to make a reception in the contest. Expect that to change this week.
"Obviously, there are a lot of guys at that position, but he has been playing too well, and we feel like you’ll see him get a lot of work this week with the ones," Payton said. "You’ll see him in the game Saturday with the ones."
While Coleman continues to push for playing time, a host of other Saints receivers are battling it out for roster spots.
With an impressive showing against Baltimore, Snead threw his name into the mix as a contender for a roster spot. The 22-year-old turned heads with a fantastic fourth-quarter grab, and he finished the game with two catches for 30 yards.
Snead will be one to watch in Saturday’s game as he looks to build on his recent momentum.
New Orleans switched its base defensive alignment from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this offseason, which means the Saints don’t necessarily need a true 0-technique nose guard to line head-up over the opposing center.
Nevertheless, the Saints are still looking for a positive contribution from 359-pound tackle John Jenkins on the defensive interior. The third-year man out of Georgia has yet to make a real impact on the New Orleans front line, and last week’s performance against the Ravens didn’t demonstrate any noteworthy improvement.
Jenkins’ ability to cover his gaps and hold his ground against New England’s starters on Saturday will be worth keeping a close eye on.
First-round draft pick Andrus Peat didn’t earn glowing reviews for his performance against the Ravens, but the rookie offensive lineman still managed to win his share of battles.
Seeing time at both the left and right tackle spots, Peat had an up-and-down night in his first NFL outing, and he’ll be working to showcase some progress against New England.
Throughout the tenure of general manager Mickey Loomis, the Saints have enjoyed considerable success with undrafted free agents.
After seeing the field early and often against the Ravens, defensive lineman Bobby Richardson appears to be one of this year’s key free-agent finds.
The rookie out of Indiana contributed four tackles in his NFL debut, and he’ll get another opportunity to turn heads in the Superdome against the defending champs on Saturday night.
A number of Saints rookies enjoyed fine performances against Baltimore, and rookie running back Marcus Murphy turned in one of the finest. The 5’9”, 195-pounder racked up 132 return yards on five kickoffs in the contest.
Offseason free-agent acquisition C.J. Spiller is expected to play a key role in the return game this season, but having another capable return man on board certainly doesn't hurt.
Murphy’s production on special teams will be key for him throughout the preseason as he looks to carve out a spot for himself on the 2015 squad.
Third-round draft pick Garrett Grayson was undoubtedly impressive in his New Orleans debut, but third-year quarterback Ryan Griffin also turned in a nice performance a week ago. Griffin completed 10 of 17 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
This week, the 25-year-old former undrafted free agent will try to make it two solid showings in a row as he continues to compete with Luke McCown for the role of No. 2 signal-caller.
With the recently drafted Grayson a cinch to occupy a place on the final roster, either Griffin or McCown will likely be placed on the chopping block before the regular season begins.
The 34-year-old McCown holds a considerable advantage in experience, while the 6’5” Griffin sets himself apart with his athleticism and live arm. The Tulane product must continue to perform at a high level if he’s to have a shot at winning the backup job, and that means he needs another first-rate performance against New England on Saturday night.
Wins and losses aren’t the most important aspect of the preseason, but having at least a minimal degree of success against the opposition’s No. 1 units holds some significance.
Last week, New Orleans’ starting units fell behind 17-0 in the early going, and the Saints will be looking to avoid a similar start on Saturday night.
Look for Brees and the starting offense to come out with focus and purpose. If that is the case, it will be a surprise if the group doesn’t reach the end zone in the first quarter.
The Saints’ banged-up defense will no doubt have its hands full against the Patriots offense, but a strong performance from this hungry group isn’t out of the question, either.
Come Saturday night, the Saints will demonstrate noticeable improvements from their first outing and will pull out a close win in front of their home crowd.
Prediction: Saints 24, Patriots 20