September 1, 2011

Canfield Contained as Receivers Bumble; Titans Win 32-9

The Saints handed the preseason finale to third string quarterback Sean Canfield, a game played by almost entirely men who will be cut before the weekend.

The tall southpaw played the entire game for the Saints, starting behind a patchwork line and skill position players Tory Humphrey, Adrian Arrington, Tyler Lorenzen, Montez Billings, Andy Tanner, Korey Hall and Joique Bell.  It would be realistic to expect that only Humphrey would make the active roster with the rest, including Canfield, cut by the Saints.

A few Saints starters did see significant action in the finale, especially those who had missed earlier action with injury.  CB Tracy Porter, suddenly fighting for his job with second-year Patrick Robinson, played into the second quarter.  LG Carl Nicks started, though was soon replaced by G Brian De La Puente.  George Foster started for Jermon Bushrod at left tackle.

Canfield, taking snaps all game long from backup C Matt Tennant, hit his first three passes, hitting Humphrey for 7, then Billings for gains of 5 and 17 yards.  Joique Bell, who played the entire game carried twice for a first down to the Titan 40.  But that's where the Saints' first drive stopped. Patrick Cobbs was stopped for a short gain, then he dropped a flare pass from Canfield.  On third down, Billings dropped a near-first down pass in traffic, and the Saints punted from the Titan 38.  The Titans, who fields most of their starters to start, got their mitts on Canfield for the first time on that third down, a growing trend.

The Titans didn't fare much better, as starting QB Matt Hasselbeck hitting Nate Washington for a 28-yard gain but his drive stalled at the Saint 42.  The Saints started Will Smith and Shaun Rogers on the defensive line, but also started Turk McBride, Mitch King.

The Titans' first punt was downed at the 6 when Darren Sproles let the ball bounce, and it went straight backwards to a Titan defender.  Two plays later Titans DE Karl Klug tossed aside De La Puente and sacked Canfield in the end zone.  The Saints defense would force a three and out on Matt Hasselbeck's second and final drive.

After a respectable start haunted by drops, Canfield's night would get progressively worse.  The next drive was ended by a catch and fumble by TE Tory Humphrey, when S Jordan Babineaux placed his helmet right on the ball in Humphrey's grasp.

The next drive ended when Canfield's made an ill-advised pass way across the field to the far hashmarks.  The pass was right to Arrington, but bobbled and intercepted by Babineaux.

The next drive saw Montez Billings cough up a laser-like pass right into the hands of Titans DB Tommy Campbell for another interception.  Canfield's next drive ended on a failed fourth and two from just inside Titans territory. Canfield's passes were generally on target and with good velocity, his pocket presence was good most of the time, and he showed decent mobility for a 6'4 quarterback.  Though he likely won't be a Saint in 2011 because the Saints will only retain two quarterbacks, Canfield made a good showing for himself.

Meanwhile, Titans first round pick rookie QB Jake Locker led the Titans to two touchdowns and two field goals and a 22-0 lead in the second quarter for the visitors.

Canfield moved the Saints in the final 3:15 down the field from the Saint 21 to the Titan 21, converting two third downs and including passes of 13 yards to WR Andy Tanner and Billings, setting up John Kasay's first field goal attempt in a Saints uniforms.  His 39-yard attempt with a new holder, backup QB Chase Daniel, sailed wide left.  Kasay, who hit four game winners against the Saints in his history, would later miss an extra point before finally connecting on a 38-yard field goal at the end of the game.

The second half featured more Saints turnovers.  After the Titans added another field goal for the 25-0 lead, Canfield had an eight-play drive snapped by a fumble by RB Patrick Cobbs.  The Titans would drive down to the goal line but rookie LB Martez Wilson would sack Locker on fourth down at their own 5.

The defense's victory would be quickly undone, as Sean Canfield dropped Tennant's snap, Tennant stepped on Canfield's foot, then Tennant kicked the ball to the left where it was recovered by the Titans at the Saint 9.

Yet, four plays later, new Titans QB Rusty Smith turned it over on downs again.  The Titans offense had run 11 straight offensive plays at or inside the Saint 20, and came away with zero points.  One of those plays was an apparent touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference.

The Saints got the ball back again at their own four, and managed not to turn it over before punting.  But the mix-and-matched Saint special teams allowed WR Damian Williams to return the punt 52 yards untouched.  P Thomas Morstead had earlier made a touchdown-saving tackle, escorting WR Lavelle Hawkins out of bounds after a 67-yard kickoff return, but couldn't get an angle on Williams in the open field.

Canfield and the Saints finally got on the scoreboard after a 10-play, 66 yard drive that featured a 19-yard strike to Arrington.  Canfield hit quick underneath strikes to Tyler Lorenzen and then three dump offs to Joique Bell.  Bell also carried three times for 13 yards on the drive, and Canfield hit Billings at the goal line from two yards out for the Saints' first six points of the game, with 7:29 left in the preseason.

Canfield threw only one incompletion in 16 attempts in the second half, though he completed only two scoring drives because of two fumbles and a punt.  On the game, Canfield was 29 of 39 for 249 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.  He suffered some brutal hits on the night, and was sacked twice by Klug including the safety.  It was a decent night of film, he showed toughness playing with reserves against reserves, for Canfield, who will likely head to the Saints' practice squad for a second season.

“It was sloppy," Canfield told the media after the game. "You can’t expect to win with turnovers like that. It seemed like every time we got something going that we would fumble or miss a snap. That’s what came down to it offensively for us especially in the first half.”

A game that was supposed to be a battle between Adrian Arrington, Montez Billings and Andy Tanner was marred by drops and bobbles.  None of them may make the team at this point.  Billings' touchdown catch was more than overshadowed by his drops, including one that led to interceptions. That may have been Arrington's last game as a Saint.  No longer eligible for the practice squad, perhaps the former 7th round pick needs a fresh start.  A sensational, highlight-reel one-handed grab early in the third quarter is a known factor for Arrington, who has been making circus style catches all night. But the coaches know well too Arrington's limitations.

LB Martez Wilson showed good tackling, especially when he generated a drive-ending sack by bull rushing then back-spinning away from RT Adam Terry to bury Locker.  Wilson generated that sack by rushing off the edge as a standup end on the line.  He isn't a starter at outside linebacker, buried behind Will Herring, Scott Shanle and Jonathan Casillas, but he will likely get on the field.  Moments like a third quarter spearing, late-hit personal foul however will keep him off the field, so Wilson needs to play smarter.

Cornerback Leigh Torrence moved to safety this week, practicing behind Malcolm Jenkins, and started there tonight.  The Saints, having tried and seen poor results from Jonathon Amaya and Paul Oliver, decided to put the solid-tackling Torrence at safety for this game.  Torrence, a tough, valuable and trusted veteran, will end up on special teams anyway unless injuries promote him on the field.

The Saints likely have room for four runningbacks on the roster, and Joique Bell is the clear winner over Patrick Cobbs.  Cobbs may be a more accomplished special teamer, but a dropped pass and a fumble were part of a poor showing tonight. Bell showed great vision and get-downfield despite wearing a right knee brace.

Payton praised Bell, who finished with 124 total yards, after the game: "I think he’s been a pretty steady performer for us. He is not at 100 percent; you can see that a little bit tonight maybe a little more that you did last week. To his credit, he is battling through and giving us some tough yardage. I thought he played his best last week, he played well early in the preseason, but he has been pretty consistent."

WR Courtney Roby was the kickoff returner for the Saints the entire game, taking almost every kickoff out of the back of the end zone.  Roby stands to be the Saints' 5th receiver on the 53 man roster.

Notes: Sean Payton denied reports that PK Garrett Hartley was out 8-10 weeks with a hip flexor injury... Payton promised an updated injury report on Monday...

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