New Orleans Saints Preseason: 3 Quick Observations

Hektor GallinghouseContributor IIIAugust 29, 2011

New Orleans Saints Preseason: 3 Quick Observations

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    Heading into the 2011 season, the New Orleans Saints have lofty aspirations of winning another Super Bowl. Through the preseason, the team's performance has been uneven, as is expected in exhibition football.

    Yet hopes remain high, and the Saints have garnered plenty of positive recognition from the national media during this truncated preseason.

    SI's Jim Trotter picked the Saints to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl; NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted that the Saints "were the best team [he] saw all summer—big, fast and deep"; and SI's Peter King asserted that the Saints are "a good-looking team."

    What follows are three observations on the Saints after three weeks of preseason football.  

The Rushing Attack Is Ready

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    If anything has bolstered confidence in the Saints' prospects for 2011, it's been the reestablishment of the running game. 

    Through three games thus far in the preseason, the Saints have averaged 4.2 yards per attempt and 125.6 yards per game. The renewed commitment to the running game is evident, and it directly correlates to success historically in the Sean Payton era. 

    Mark Ingram has scored TDs in all three games, and appears ready to make a significant contribution. Pierre Thomas' steady, understated reliability, diversity and efficiency have been on full display as well.

    While Darren Sproles acclimates himself to the offensive scheme, backup RB Joique Bell has been a standout performer.

    In the two games he's played, he's totaled 102 rushing yards and 95 receiving yards. Bell's 142 total yards against the Oakland Raiders is the single-game high point thus far in the NFL preseason.

    Finally, with the Saints'  2010 leading rusher Chris Ivory close to recovery from offseason foot surgery, the Saints' RB corps is as deep and talented as it's ever been.   

The Run Defense Needs Work

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    If the Saints don't shore up their rush defense quickly, the ghosts of the 2010 wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks will continue to linger.

    The Saints' defense has been eviscerated to the tune of 5.3 yards per rush attempt vs. Oakland and a staggering 6.1 yards per rush attempt vs. Houston.

    The defensive line, though infused with talent and depth, has been beset by injury and a lack of continuity. They've been unable to sustain the point of attack in consecutive weeks, allowing opposing rushers to repeatedly reach the second level unscathed.

    The LB corps has periodically appeared slow to react, and the tackling appears inconsistent and suspect.

    And while the intensity of preseason games takes a backseat to that of the regular season, the consistent inability to stop the run and tackle cleanly poses a challenge as the Saints move forward.     

Jimmy Graham, Superstar

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    If you watched the first half of the Saints-Raiders game, you saw Jimmy Graham line up all over the field. And you saw the Raiders incapable of defending him.  

    You also saw Brees repeatedly target Graham to the tune of 5 catches for 73 yards in the first half alone.

    This is a trend NFL fans should get used to: Jimmy Graham wreaking havoc against opposing defenses. 

    Graham's physical presence, athleticism, and natural pass-catching ability, coupled with Brees' desire to fully integrate him into the offense, creates a serious challenge for opposing defenses.