Ahhh! I can feel it, the real ear-splitting, bone shattering, Saints dominating games are getting close. But as we all know we are still stuck in football purgatory known as the NFL Pre-Season, don’t get me wrong I like it, heck just a month ago we were all stuck in football Hell known as the offseason dead time. But to me it’s like eating a good burger in Iowa, while it hits the spot it isn’t a Po-Boy.
At least the 3rd Pre-Season game kinda-sorta looks like a regular season game in the sense that they play their starters longer. I was going to focus my attention on the young players trying to make the team but considering that’s all that will be playing next week I’ll focus on something different this week. The Pre-Season is tricky to watch as a fan, you wait all this time for some football but what you really get is water downed vanilla ice cream. You have to take some of what you see with a grain of salt, was it extremely enjoyable to see Matt Flynn get smacked around while he was running for his life? You bet but the regular season has a way of smacking the fans back to reality. I want to focus on individual match ups with the starters this week, to watch the one on one battles of key players on this Saints team. It’s really just a few areas that I will focus on but these areas will go a long way into stomping the Falcons in to the ground.
Cameron Jordan in my opinion is the best Saints defender on the team and he’s really looked good in camp and in both previous games but he will be tested in this game against the Texans. Houston’s left tackle Duane Brown is one of if not the best left tackles in the NFL; he can be dominating at times. Don’t believe me? In 2011 he did not allow a single sack or commit a holding penalty. Last year in one of the most impressive showings by an offensive lineman in a game against the heralded defensive line of Detroit he was downright nasty. Houston gained 8.8 yards per rush off left tackle and when in pass blocking he only gave up one hurry in 51 passing situations. This should be fun to watch, a third year player in Cam who is on the cusp of being a star in this league going against an All Pro/Pro Bowl tackle in his prime, get out the pop corn gang it’s going to be fun to watch.
Now on the other side with Akiem Hicks we saw flashes last year of what I think is just the tip of the iceberg with his talents, he’s shown he can go all beast mode at times and has really shined this Pre-Season. He should have a little easier time than his counterpart Jordan going up against right Tackle Derek Newton. The former 7th round pick out of Arkansas St. worked his way into the starting lineup last year only to tear a patellar tendon in his knee ending his season on IR. Newton seems to be fine but I expect him to get help controlling Hicks. With Arian Foster still out with an injury I wouldn’t put too much stock in what Houston does running the ball, instead focus on Jordan and Hicks to see what kind of pressure they can get on Schaub.
Another thing to keep an eye on is how the Saints offensive line holds up against a very good Houston defensive line. Yes the Texans will be without defensive end Antonio Smith for ripping Richie Incognito’s helmet off and hitting him with it (much deserved in my opinion) but their Defensive front seven is still really good without him. They are going to have to double JJ watts, or he will eat Strief up. They may just leave a back in there to help block or chip him at least. I really wish Ed Reed was back, just for selfish reasons, I love watching that guy play. But I do think if the O-Line can give Brees a little time, he can pick Houston’s secondary apart.
And last but not least, the two young guns: Nick Toon and Kenny Stills. I know we already have been watching these two closely but both of these guys are poised to make an impact this year and with Colston not quiet 100% they may be thrown into the fire right off the bat September 8th. What I want to see is first, no mistakes of course but also separation and yards after catch. I want to see if they can get behind a defense (like Toon did last week) consistently, I want to see speed. In the past defenses knew Meachem and Henderson could get behind them and if they did the ball was coming, they had to respect it and in turn opened up the underneath routes to everyone else. Every defensive coordinator in the league knows the Saints like to do this but when ran efficiently it still can’t be stopped, am I Right Falcons? I also want to watch Mark Ingram Sunday, he’s shown flashes this Pre-Season but he really needs to step up and be more decisive in finding his lanes in my opinion. Just from watching him in camp, he has looked faster and he’s really looked like he put in a lot of off-season work, but it’s time to put up or shut for Ingram, the Saints have invested a lot in Ingram, it’s time they get some returns on their investment.
Next week is truly the bubble game so I’ll look at all the players fighting for a handful of spots but this week it’s one on one time, who wins those battles. I think this is going to be very entertaining Pre-Season game, let the battles begin.