August 27, 2006

Scouting Notes on Saints-Colts: Short notes and quick hits on the Saints' preseason week three

Starting lineups for the Saints: LDE Will Smith, DT Hollis Thomas, DT Brian Young, RDE Charles Grant, WLB Scott Shanle, MLB Alfred Fincher, SLB Scott Fujita, CB Fred Thomas, CB Mike McKenzie, S Roman Harper, S Josh Bullocks. On offense, QB Drew Brees, RB's Deuce McAllister and RB Reggie Bush in an offset-I formation, LT Jammal Brown, LG Jamar Nesbit, C Jeff Faine, RG Jahri Evans, RT Jon Stinchcomb, WR Joe Horn, TE Ernie Conwell and WR Donte Stallworth. Did not see the field: QB's Adrian McPherson and Jason Fife, P Mitch Berger, RB Aaron Stecker, TE Tim Euhus, LB Tommy Polley, G Jermane Mayberry, DT Rodney Leisle, WR Michael Lewis, DT Willie Whitehead.



Injury reports: WR Joe Horn suffered a back bruise and did not return, but he is tough enough to have played through it in a meaningful game. Horn made the opening catch of the game for either yards, and took a shot to the back. He remained in the game... WR Bethel Johnson brought a second half kickoff back to midfield but when down with a fumble and an MCL sprain. A two-to-four week injury may find Johnson on the PUP or released with an injury settlement if he has not win a roster spot with his performances so far. Johnson also had an impressive kickoff return in the first half and showed both patience and explosiveness.

Secondary: First play of the game, WR Marvin Harrison split two deep zone of the young safeties Bullocks and Harper perfectly. Harper was late but put a nice hit on. Veterans like Harrison have made a career on making that play and getting up from it. Harper will only make a career on being there two or three steps earlier... Clark broke down the seam deep and had a step on Bullocks, but Manning’s throw was high and behind Clark, allowing Bullocks a chance to make an excellent play over the top to deflect the ball as it entered Clark’s hands for the incompletion. Uncharacteristic of Manning to be off target when his man was so wide open and a certain touchdown in the regular season. In the first three minutes we saw both Bullocks and Harper beaten over the middle on seam routes, which is troubling, but then again, nobody attacks a Cover 2 like Peyton Manning... The first of McKenzie’s defensive pass interference calls was probably only the five-yard defensive holding variety since it was incidental contact fifteen yards down field. The ball was well over thrown... Great play by Fred Thomas defending on a long pass to Wayne in the end zone. Thomas was step for step with the taller receiver and got his hands in the right place. Too bad the refs didn’t catch Wayne pulling Thomas to the ground by his face mask... Payton was off target again for Clark when he was wide open down the seam. Clark had lined up in the slot and – once again – only the Colts can stop themselves when going down the seam. The Saints are happy to oblige letting any Colt get open in deep center... McKenzie’s second pass interference flag can’t really be explained, other than McKenzie fell down and took Harrison with him. McKenzie’s foot caught Harrison’s, but it didn’t help that McKenzie had his arm all over Harrison’s back numbers... McKenzie’s third pass interference call is as clear and indefensible as the first. Can’t really argue with the call, McKenzie was pushing all over him... Payton Manning has surprisingly been off several times tonight, although it’s clear that Marvin Harrison isn’t making every possible attempt to catch off-target passes... Roman Harper punished TE Bryan Fletcher for dropping a ball midway into the third quarter, laying him out onto this back. Another great hit by one of the young enforcers on the Saints defense... CB Josh Lay was badly beaten by John Standeford on a deep route. Lay even seemed to give up after knowing he was beat. The sixth round pick stumbled and was behind by four yards when Standeford caught and walked in to the end zone for a 45 yard score. Not a good showing for Lay to that point, although later Lay would collect an interception off of King. Makes it difficult to grade a guy like Lay who gets badly exposed on one play and makes a good read on a ball the next. If anything, though, Standeford exposed his lack of NFL-caliber deep speed. Later, Standeford burnt Anwar Phillips, even though Phillips was flagged for defensive holding on the play. At this point it is hard to say that any of the rookie cornerbacks on the roster for the Saints are going to make the team. Add former Packer Joey Thomas to that list as well. The Saints don’t need to keep but one or two of them with McKenzie, Fred Thomas and Jason Craft locked into the top three jobs. Rick Mueller said up in the TV broadcast booth that he doesn’t think any of the cornerbacks played well tonight and that it was wide open after the top three... Youngsters Roman Harper and Josh Bullocks started the game, and veterans Jay Bellamy and Omar Stoutmire finished the game with the second string...

Linebackers: Starting MLB Alfred Fincher on first run found himself one-on-one with massive tackle Tarik Glenn two yards downfield. Fincher tried to get around him and put his arms up to shield himself, but Glenn reduced him to the turf with a quick hand slap on the arms and buried him on the play... Colts TE Ben Utecht beat Fujita and Fincher down the seem. Fincher ran him down after 22 yard gain and the ball was placed perfectly over 6’5 Fujita’s arms... Next play was a toss right with Dominic Rhodes. Shanle diagnosed the play immediately, ran up and met his man Utecht, beat him moving forward, and with Charles Grant stringing the run to the sideline, Shanle was there to shove Rhodes to the border. Great play by Shanle and more will be needed from the newcomer playing at weakside linebacker... Fincher looked better coming up to drop Rhodes after a three-yard gain, making an athletic move to snag Rhodes’ leg and wrap him up. Fincher’s making more tackles in this game that he had in the previous two combined on the first drive, but they are too downfield. Earlier, we saw Fincher drop back nine yards on his shallow middle zone responsibilities, allowing Clark an easy five yard completion in front of him... We’re seeing Alfred Fincher attack the line a little bit more, playing more in forward than in reverse. On the first touchdown pass that ended the 5:38 opening drive, Fincher read Manning’s eyes and got his hands up in the passing lane, but five years of experience still managed to complete the 10-yard touchdown from Manning to Wayne in the back of the end zone on a quick post. Wayne had beaten CB Fred Thomas badly on the double move in the end zone... Fujita was victimized by Dallas Clark deep on the Colt’s second drive. Clark is a real playmaker in this league and is just about uncoverable by linebackers or safeties. What hands, too. The Colts are throwing at will down the seam as the Saints cannot cover anybody who does a seam or deep post route. Clark’s strength is not blocking, however. Near the goalline on the Colts’ second drive, Clark’s attempt at seal blocking Fujita landed him a helmet to the ear, a foot from Brian Young to the crown and a concussion. The block was effective, however, as Fujita was blocked upfield and out of the play... Fujita does a good job attacking the blocking on stretch plays instead of letting the blocks come to him. Fincher is more of a wait and react, but he’s showing some improvement. That he started this week over Jay Foreman is either a sign of his development or a capitulation by the Saints that they really don’t have anything better at MLB, including Jay Foreman... First play of third Colts drive, Fincher couldn’t finish off the play but he did a good job going upfield and chasing Rhodes to the sideline where Mike McKenzie finished him off after only a one yard gain. TE Bryan Fletcher held up Fujita on that play. On the next play, one of the game’s best impacts was Scott Fujita bull rushing Colts right tackle Ryan Diem. The offensive lineman’s head popped back as Fujita pushed him deep into the pocket although Diem had Fujita locked up fairly well. Manning’s release is so fast and deliberate that even a solid pass rush like Fujita’s gets only vapors... Shanle did a good job bouncing off the trash and filling the hole on Dominic Rhodes. Next play Tarik Glenn gobbled Shanle up blocking out in the flat on a tight end screen to Rhodes... Fincher didn’t like letting Rhodes pick up six yards on a screen, but made a pretty athletic play diving around Glenn for the elusive Rhodes’ feet and tripping him up... It didn’t work much on 6’6 Manning, but I like the idea of getting the big 6’5 linebacker into quarterbacks’ passing lanes. Even if he doesn’t get the sack, a big guy like that putting his arms up is going to disrupt things... Joseph Addai gained eight yards on a sweep left when the defensive line was sealed off and the Saints linebackers – for once – diagnosed the play well. But Shanle couldn’t avoid one of the pulling interior linemen and Fincher sprinted to bump Addai out of bounds. Bullocks was also behind in pursuit... Fujita stretched out for the pass breakup from his position in the shallow zone, another advantage from having a 6’5 outside linebacker on the field... Archie Manning may not think the Colts are a good screen team, but they sure do look like they have that play down pat. The Saints’ front seven is not very keen on it tonight... Scott Shanle made a good hit on a scrambling Shaun King, targeting the ball with his shoulder. Like what I am seeing so far from Shanle, although on Saturday night he bumped Colby Bockwoldt – not Alfred Fincher – from the starting lineup... Terrance Melton has been putting a push on recently, but is still running with the second team. Late in the third he leveled Shaun King on a blitz and forced a lame throw for an incompletion. A guy bred by the Haslett regime as a special teamer, Melton is being given a fair shot to earn defensive snaps. Melton had a few good stops in pursuit late in the game. Late in the fourth he blew through TE Fletcher to help drop Kory Chapman for a two-yard loss...

Defensive Linemen: On Manning’s scramble on the opening drive, both Saint defensive tackles beat their men, then each other. Hollis Thomas beat the right guard with a veteran swim move to the right, then bulldozed the center straight back into Manning. Brian Young went all the way around the left guard to find Manning’s blind side. But with Grant and Smith overrunning the pass rush behind the pocket, Manning stepped to this right. Thomas obliterated his own man, Young, and Payton scrambled for 11 yards on third and nine. On that play, LT Tarik Glenn started up a second too soon but the false start penalty was not called... Later in the first drive, Will Smith got a clean alley shot at Manning when an outside rush by Shanle and a stunt by rookie DT Brandon Villareal worked beautifully. Smith buried Manning but not after he completed an eight yard pass to Wayne on third and seven despite sticky coverage by Jason Craft... On second drive, Charles Grant was stung badly by a play action pass. He has been playing the run well so far, as have the rest of the Saints defense. DT Brian Young is doing a good job consistently beating Colts interior linemen and de-greasing the Colt running game, especially with Hollis Thomas drawing double teams. Any comparisons to La’Roi Glover and Norman Hand, however, are far too premature... The Colts had very little success running against Charles Grant tonight... The refs let Tarik Glenn get away with false starts and face masks on Will Smith all night... One time when Grant didn’t do a good job in the run was following the first interception of Brees. Grant let himself get sealed and stood up by Diem and he only disengaged when Addai ran by him. Grant jumped on his back after a six yard gain but the hole was created when Grant was pushed out of the way... AFL pro and Saint bubble player Joe Minucci made a great play scooting out of the way of Tarik Glenn’s dive block and then making the easy play in dropping Addai for a three yard loss. Minucci has seen some good playing time early in the game and gave the coaches a few good things to look at on film. But Minucci’s archetype is the same as Brian Young, Willie Whitehead and the rookie Villareal, and the Saints have only so much room for quick, undersized defensive tackles... Grant’s sack of Manning in the second quarter was called back because Will Smith had jumped early, but Grant made a great play fishing Manning out, blowing past Dylan Gandy’s slide protection and dropping Manning hard... It’s hard for Will Smith to make an impact when the refs are allowing Tarik Glenn to regularly get an extra step in before the snap. I counted at least three pass plays where Glenn was not called for rising and stepping before the snap. That’s got to be frustrating for Smith... Will Smith gets no luck with penalties tonight. In the third quarter, he lined up against second string left tackle Michael Toudouze. Smith blew past Toudouze, who promptly put a hand on Smith’s back and drove him into ground, sans holding penalty. A few plays later Smith got a free lane at King and pushed him to the ground, resisting the urge to take out his frustration and draw a roughing the passer penalty... DT Brandon Villareal cut through the line and ran down the runner on a sweep left, making the initial contact on Kory Chapman after a five yard gain when his teammates were tied up by blockers... Colts T Michael Toudouze didn’t show much respect for a veteran that once wore the blue and white. Toudouze leveled former Colt Josh Williams from the blind shoulder on the last play of the third quarter. Williams was released two months before Toudouze signed with the Colts as a rookie free agent... RDE Rob Ninkovich chased down the runner on the opposite side of the field and ended up near the pile, as usual, early in the fourth. Next play, he whipped LT Toudouze badly and dropped Tony Hollings for a loss. On the next play, he disrupted a screen pass just by being fast off the snap and pressuring the quarterback. Guy is simply around the ball all the time... Ninkovich collected his second sack of the preseason when he sacked King, after Josh Williams got around him and almost wrapped him up. DE Javon Nanton made a play when he blasted foolish RB Tony Hollings, who gave up ground and reversed his field trying to make something happen late in the game. Hollings fumbled, and it was picked up by Colby Bockwoldt who booted, picked it up and returned it 13 yards to the Colts 12.

Offensive Linemen: LT Jammal Brown did a great job at times on Dwight Freeney. He has made strides since preseason game one. At other times, Freeney as expected was too much for Brown to handle. No LT can contain Freeney and Brown did admirably most of the time. Still, Brees was for the most part untouched and had plenty of time to throw on almost every pass attempt. Considering the competition, Brown and RT Jon Stinchcomb fared well... On the Saints second drive, first play, both Jon Stinchcomb and Jahri Evans started well and ended poorly. Stinchcomb contacted Mathis once and slid to force Mathis to go all the way around him. But Stinchcomb allowed Mathis to end his nine-yard deep loop around him by slamming into Brees shortly after the quarterback released inaccurately to Marques Colston. Evans stepped up and stood up Montae Reagor and mashed him in the shoulder, but then watched as Reagor bounced back, changed direction and headed back into the pile to hit Brees from the front. Stinchcomb and Evans were left standing as their marks nailed their quarterback simultaneously. Two plays later in shotgun formation Evans and Stinchcomb did a great job picking up Reagor and Mathis’ stunt, but Brees’ pass to Stallworth was too high... Some good run blocking for the Saints ahead of Deuce. Robert Mathis is so fast he sprinted from LDE behind the entire Saints line and dropped Deuce after one a four-yard gain with real estate ahead of him. RT Jon Stinchcomb was already downfield pushing Cato June away from the play that was supposed to outrun the left defensive end. On the next play, Mathis was again the backfield but followed Brees instead of Deuce. Deuce went off center Jeff Faine’s standup block of Montae Reagor, and plowed through the second level for a nine yard gain. But Mathis is just so quick, and on the next play he spun an off-balance Jahri Evans all the way around going past him to trip up Reggie Bush... TE Nate Lawrie had his hands full with DE George Gause and clearly held him right in front of a very forgiving back judge...

Quarterbacks: Nice opening for Drew Brees, completing opening passes to Horn, Conwell and Stallworth for 8, 14 and 10 yards. But Brees would miss his next five passes over two drives and wouldn’t complete another until three minutes into the second quarter. Accuracy is an issue... First play of Saints’ third drive of the game, the Saints shifted Conwell and Karney to the right side of the line, where Jamal Jones was also tight in the slot. Logically, all three linebackers followed and the run right by Deuce was stuffed by Rob Morris. In the regular season, I would expect Brees to recognize that and audible away from the Colts, who stopped that run cold before the ball was snapped... Brees got good protection most of the night, and delivered his second best throw on the Saints’ third drive when he drove a bullet through Donte Stallworth down the field for a 15-yard gain. Brees would hit Bush in the flat for eight yards, then two plays later Karney was wide open in the left flat and took it down the sideline for 25 yards. But the next play Brees would be picked off for the first time when Jamal Jones went up high and missed the ball in the end zone. Jones had beat his man and had the touchdown but wiffed on the catch. Brees had looked off left and tossed right, and Jones didn’t do a good job of getting ready for the pass... Brees’s second interception was also intended for Jamal Jones. Brees led Jones too far down the field. On that play, Ernie Conwell single-handedly stifled right defensive end Dwight Freeney; Jammal Brown needed only look on as Brees had plenty of time but overthrew it... In the final possession for the Saints late in the second quarter, just like in Dallas, Brees came alive and delivered three straight perfect lasers. His best throw of the night came when he nailed the timing of a deep out to Donte Stallworth that netted 20 yards, a virtually undefendable throw when run and passed right. His next throw to Marques Colston was also on a rope, although the rookie made an unusual rookie mistake in route running when he cut his route two yards short of a first down. Stallworth juggled and dropped Brees’ next throw, a great deep out, before throwing one low to Conwell in the flat. He followed it with two quick connections to Bush on the shallow right sideline as the seconds ticked away, and as the first half expired he fired a throw deep to Stallworth. The ball was well short of the end zone and dropped by a leaping #83 anyway... The Saints only ran the ball six times in the first half (McAllister four times, Bush twice). Brees put it up 24 times in the first quarter. He finished 19/29 for 189 yards and two interceptions... QB Jamie Martin opened with four straight passes in his playing time, three of them intended for Chris Horn and one to Lawrie. Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler got a palm on the ball and it was intercepted by Antoine Bethea. Martin tried to make up for it by making a shoestring tackle...

Runningbacks: RB Reggie Bush showed more of his rookie side tonight that in two previous nights. On the Saints’ opening drive, a screen to Bush was aborted riskily by Brees when Bush ran into Jammal Brown, who was busy retreating from a bull rush by Dwight Freeney. Bush then stumbled getting up and got tangled in the pocket. Brees, backpedaling, had to launch the ball at Bush’s feet and Brown was lucky not to get a holding call... Reggie Bush showed great hands on all five of his pass receptions, and in fact opened up the game at wide receiver... The Saints’ first play of the second half was a quick out to Reggie Bush, who went in motion to the left wideout, didn’t net any yardage, as Bush was dropped for a yard gain by Marlin Jackson. But that play is setting up variations on theme in the future, which could feature Bush running routes deep or as a decoy in that formation. The Saints surely ran that play first out of the gate in the second half strictly for the purpose of getting it on film for future opponents... Deuce McAllister’s final two runs show me just about everything I need to see from a guy coming back from a bad right knee injury. With the Saints’ starters still on the field and the Colts’ second teamers lining up against them, Deuce would cover 42 yards in two plays. First, he follows some great blocking by Karney and Stinchcomb into the hole, then skips outside and powers down the right sideline, outrunning inside linebacker Dale Robinson before he and Giordano pull him down 27 yards later. Then, the Saints run the same play flipped. Instead of following the tackle, he cuts against the grain to the weakside without blockers and does the rest himself, blowing past Giordano’s arm tackle at the four and into the end zone from 15 yards out. He started both runs with a good cut, hit the openings with speed and finished both with power... RB Jamaal Branch is going to play for somebody this year, if not the Saints. Great vision and deceptive speed for a big guy, Branch is also a willing blocker. Late in the fourth, he delivered a great chip block that bought Martin plenty of time to scan the field and ultimately dump it off to Branch, a short pass he turned into a 15 yard gain. That was two plays after he took a run off left tackle for 29 yards. Branch finished with 33 yards on the ground and 25 in the air...

Wide Receivers: Great job on the early fourth down conversion by Marques Colston, who caught the quick slant and bounced Nick Harper’s helmet off on the way to picking up the extra yard. Big, physical play by a big, physical rookie from Hofstra... Great play by Jamal Jones on the comeback route early in the third quarter for a 12-yard gain... WR Donte Stallworth got a shot to return a punt in the mid third quarter... Brees made a perfectly placed throw down the left numbers to Bethel Johnson for a 21 yard gain. It was low and away where only Johnson could get it. It’s a shame Johnson got hurt later in the evening because its clear the guy has tools that can be used both on offense and special teams... WR Chris Horn made a nice catch of Jamie Martin’s first throw, making the easy catch with footsteps coming and holding on to the ball despite big hits from multiple directions... WR Devery Henderson’s only pass catch attempt was juggled before being brought in over the middle. Henderson let the ball spike him in the chest pads but he corralled it off the rebound... WR Marques Colston plays like a veteran, not an obscure seventh round pick from football lightweight Hofstra. Great doublemove and then he blew by CB Kelvin Hayden. For a big guy, Colston moves so well. After the draft I speculated he might be turned into a project tight end, a la Boo Williams. Boy was I wrong. Colston followed his touchdown catch by finishing off the tackle on kick coverage. No way he doesn’t make this team...

Special Teams: Steve Weatherford’s first punt was fantastic, a 61-yarder that pushed Terrance Wilkins to the sideline inside his own ten yard line... That Fred McAfee was the second return man for whomever was returning, whether it was Bethel Johnson, Devery Henderson or Jamal Jones, is a good sign that the veteran will make the team. He’s essentially the fullback of the kickoff return... Jay Bellamy did a great job blocking the gunner out of the play on Jamal Jones’ second quarter punt return. If he makes this team, it may not be as a starter, so special teams will be a requirement... Weatherford’s second and final punt attempt was a booming 47-yarder again to the edge of the field. As if a groin muscle injury wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Mitch Berger has got to be feeling the heat on the hot seat. Weatherford is making the most of his opportunities with power and accuracy. It's a good thing too, Berger's groin injury may force them to go with Weatherford or a street free agent punter in the regular season...

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