In what is coined the "Dress Rehearsal" game for NFL teams- this 3rd preseason game of the 2013 season still leaves some major things open for discussion for both teams.
How will Arian Fosters injuries hinder his role in week 1?
Will Drew Brees continue his offensive power week in and out now that Sean Payton has returned full time as head coach?
Is the defense for Houston still one of the leagues best with JJ Watt and now a returning Brian Cushing?
Some of these questions were put to the test today as well as several other items brought to light, even though the stars saw limited action if any. Houston went without Watt, Foster and suspended Antonio Smith.
There were some nice plays by Saints rookie Kenny Stills and horrible tackling by Houston's Joe Mays who tried to strip the ball instead of a short gained tackle, which led to a 51 yard touchdown by Pierre Thomas. Not a lot is revealed in preseason games usually outside of coaches finding some missing links to either eliminate or add to their rosters. Today showed a little of what to expect from these two Super Bowl contenders.
Here are 5 things we learned from the game:
Kenny Vaccaro is the real deal
The highly touted rookie from Texas came to play this day, and his part on a goal line stand proved he will be tough to run against as well as throw on. On a 4th down play Houston was stuffed, but the play earlier and Vaccaros hit stamped the Saints first round pick as a legitimate player today. He will be a welcomed sight in the defensive backfield and a crucial part to a defense that is still a bit unsettled on the defensive line.
Houstons defense is tough-- again
Even without JJ Watt and Antonio Smith on the front end, the return of Brian Cushing and continued play of Brooks Reed saw New Orleans struggle early to muster any form of its potent offense. And, as if couldn't get worse for offenses this year that have to face Houston, enter in free agent linebacker Willie Jefferson. Whether or not he makes the team simply because of depth-this guy is a motor. An early near sack and safety for the rookie has to have opened the gm's eyes even more so after his play today. Houston swarmed all afternoon-no surprise to many.
Houston has a "special" special teams unit
Punter Shane Lechler pinned the Saints early in the first quarter with his usual 9 iron approach that left New Orleans at the 2 yard line. The next series of plays left Brees scrambling and kept the ears pinned back for the Texans. It's sure to carry over into the regular season, which will not help offenses that already will find it tough to run and pass against. And the added bonus for the offense is kicker Randy Bullock who nailed field goals of 48, 21 and 55 in the first half. His 55 yarder was easily good from 65. Houston's red zone has now expanded from the goal to the 35-yard line.
New Orleans has a stable of backs
Whether it's Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles or Mark Ingram, the Saints will run the ball all day. And throw in Payton's delayed screen that gave Houston fits today-- it's easy to predict Brees will have field days again in 2013 and New Orleans will easily come back into focus as a Super Bowl contender.
Mark Ingram needs to stay healthy this year, but he spells this trio nicely. With head coach Sean Payton back, the Saints need only to level out the receiving end of things and they will be off and running again.
These two teams could play in New York in the Super Bowl
Houston brought out another great effort early with its defense. Knowing how it will expand when Antonio Smith returns and Ed Reeds addition, today showed why some see Houston back in the playoffs and beyond.
Schaub and Ben Tate had no problem moving the ball against the Saints today. Andre Johnson went over the hundred yard mark in one half and will be spelled by rookie DeAndre Hopkins to add another weapon to an offense usually capable of scoring easily. Two key elements for a run in January. And, the Saints have proven offense is enough to play on the big stage.
The Saints moved the ball well today in the second half. The first half should be dismissed simply because a) it's Houston and b) it's Houston. They will have no problem proving once again that the well-oiled machine of Payton and Brees is simply one, if not the best in the NFL when clicking. We had a glimpse of it today.
Final today: Saints 31 Texans 23