For the second season in a row, the Saints have finished off a tough week of joint practices against the Texans with a dominating preseason victory.
The story of the game was the play, or rather the playing time, of third string QB Chase Daniel, who played three quarters, including significant time with the starting lineup.
The Saints ran the ball down the Texans' throat on their first drive, both Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush running well and picking up good chunks of yardage. Bush especially ran hard, breaking tackles and running up the middle and toughing through tacklers for the end zone on the first drive.
The first team Texans offense was forced to go three-and-out on their first drive
The Saints' second drive was stopped after a first down when Brees fired incomplete twice, once on an aborted screen play when LB Brian Cushing bumped Pierre Thomas out of the play with an uncalled illegal hands to the face. The Saints punted but former LSU WR Trindon Holliday muffed the fair catch call and it was recovered by safety Pierson Prioleau.
The Saints took over at the Texan 15, and three plays later, Brees took matters into his own hands. First was a 10 yard completion to Colston on 3rd and 6, a pass Brees threw sidearm while falling down. The throw was more baseball, or perhaps tennis, than football, but was a laser to Colston in traffic, who fell forward to the goal line. Brees capped off that drive with a QB sneak and the Saints were up 14-0 in the first quarter.
Brees finished 5/10 for 36 yards, not his sharpest outing. The Super Bowl XLIV MVP was off on a pair of long-distance throws, but was competitive and upset with poor production even in exhibition play.
Everyone's favorite 5'5" underdog, Holliday would also drop the following kickoff, two muffs in a row.
The Texans' second drive, against the Saints starters, was aided by a series of New Orleans miscues.
Three straight plays the Saints were flagged: DT Tony Hargrove kept the drive alive with a personal foul late hit on 3rd and 11, then the team was called for 12 men on the field, then DT Sedrick Ellis was called for offsides. On the next play, Jabari Greer lost Kevin Walter deep in cover for a 32 yard gain down to the Saint 17. Arian Foster punched it in on two carries in a very disappointing second series for the defense.
On the Saints' third possession, starting in the second quarter, QB Patrick Ramsey, the presumed second string quarterback, stayed on the bench. Chase Daniel, the undrafted second year athlete from Mizzou, entered the game with the starters. His first series was forgettable, throwing two bad near-interceptions, a throw-away incompletion, and two short completions to Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas. But Daniel would more than make up for it later in this game, playing three full quarters.
The Saints defensive starters also remained in the game in the second quarter, and DE Will Smith shut down the Texans' third drive by forcing a fumble by Arian Foster, recovered by DT Sedrick Ellis.
Daniel's second drive saw him complete a laser-like strike on 3rd and 13 to a wide open Colston across the field, a beautiful 25 yard gain. Three players later, Daniel snuck a screen pass through traffic to Pierre Thomas, who was escorted by Carl Nicks and the offensive line 31 yards into the end zone.
Up 21-7 in the second quarter, the Saints starting defense remained in. Matt Schaub found lots of open daylight, especially burning the Saints' with tight end receptions over the middle. Around the 5:00 mark of the second quarter, Tracy Porter turned his head and lead with his back, right into the left planted knee of All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, which bent awkwardly. The sick-looking hit was unintentional and apparently inconsequential.
Daniel and Chris Ivory looked good on the final drive of the first half. Daniel hit WR Adrian Arrington deep on a route right down the middle. The ball floated on Daniel a bit, and Arrington made a great adjustment on the ball. Ivory is a load to bring down, and on a Daniel scramble in the final seconds Ivory sent DE Connor Barwin airborne on a cut block.
At the end of the half, Daniel was given a great opportunity to manage a tight game situation, though two of his passes with less than 30 seconds left were tackled in the field. Daniel called a time out and then mustered his team for a spike to kill the clock with 6s left.
Forgoing the field goal, the Saints went for it, and Daniel hit backup fullback Zack Keasey for a one-yard touchdown and a 28-7 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Saints saw some of their same special teams struggles from New England, giving upa 63-yard return to Steve Slaton on the opening kickoff. New Orleans native Jacoby Jones also had a good return for the Texans, boding poorly for Zachary, La. native Trindon Holliday.
Chase Daniel had an down up down second half, throwing a very bad interception to former Saints LB Danny Clark, who made the easy catch in front of TE Troy Humphrey. The Texans turned that into a field goal.
With support from a strong running game powered by undrafted rookie Chris Ivory and second year undrafted free agent PJ Hill, Daniel bounced back on the next drive, hitting Hill for a 15-yard gain on a screen pass and then firing a dart in traffic to Adrian Arrington, who turned and spun in for a nice-looking 18-yard touchdown. That's back-to-back big games for Arrington, who finished with three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
But Daniel's fortunes were again low on the next Saint possession, following a Dan Orlovsky touchdown. Chris Ivory arguably scored on two straight running plays at the goal line, that would have been reviewed in a regular season game. With second and inches to go, Daniel threw high and short to WR Rod Harper, who juggled the potential goal line touchdown catch. Regardless, G Terrance Metcalf was guilty of holding on the play. Second and 10 became 4th and 17 with a sack, and Garrett Hartley ended scoring with a 35-yard field goal.
Daniel attempted only five passes on that 18-play, 10:08 drive, a preview of what the Saints offense may be in a regular season offense piloted by Daniel. Ivory carried the ball nine times for only 19 yards, it was WR Courtney Roby who kicked off the drive with a 20-yard gain on an end-around.
Daniel finished 15/21 for 182 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
After his best-yet audition for a job in the regular season, Daniel wrote after the game via Twitter: "Great to see all the fans come out and support the "Who Dat" nation tonight! Great win, but have a lot of mistakes to fix for next week!"
The bottom-strings of the Saints' defense then stopped Orlovsky on downs with 1st and 10 at the New Orleans 13 as time ticked down. Fourth-string rookie QB Sean Canfield kneeled off the final 1:23.
LT Jermon Bushrod wrote after the game, "Last nights preseason game felt like a regular season game with the great crowd turnout and high energy level.. Thanks to all that came out!"
FB Heath Evans wrote: "#1 fans in the league you guys were great once again! It was great being back on the field in the "DOME!" Man I missed you guys!!"
Injury Report: RT Jon Stinchcomb was a late scratch with a shoulder injury, something that occurred during the week but that Stinchcomb still practiced with... RB Pierre Thomas was dizzied on the second play of the game and was replaced by RB PJ Hill. Thomas re-entered the game a few minutes later and ran well... Hill later suffered what appeared to be a right elbow or shoulder injury.