August 18, 2007

Brees, Starters Sharp in Game 3: TD's by RB's mark first exhibition win for New Orleans

The Saints executed well overall, and but for a few Bengals blitzes, played a tough, crisp game from beginning to end.

Deuce McAllister and the starters got their first touchdown of the preseason on their first drive, marching authoritatively down the field with Drew Brees at the helm.

Brees connected on all six of his passes, playing only one drive, with completions of 12, 10, 10, 6, 8 and 10 yards, including a well-executed screen to Bush. McAllister capped off the drive by plunging eight yards up the middle, a play where Jon Stinchcomb and Mark Campbell walled in the right half of the Bengals defense while Mike Karney and Jeff Faine took the left. McAllister followed his blockers straight up the gut of the Bengals defense, meeting his first defender inside the five and falling forward across the goal line. Much like last preseason, the Saint offense found problems creating touchdowns up until tonight.

Brees finished 6/6 for 55 yards and was not sacked. McAllister and Bush combined for seven carries and 28 yards including their two scores.

Aided by a 47 yard return of the kickoff by budding star Lance Moore, the Saints moved into position for a 48 yard field goal by Olindo Mare, who responded to Shayne Graham's 51 yarder, two of the stronger legs in the NFL sparring in preseason play.

On their third drive, with all starters but Brees in, the Saints benefited from Charles Grant's sack and forced fumble on Carson Palmer. It was the only sack of a Bengal QB on the night. DT Antwan Lake, starting next to Kendrick Clancy for the second straight game, recovered the fumble at the Bengal 22. Three plays later, Reggie Bush went up the middle through a gaping hole, dodging two defenders who only put hands on him as he scored from six yards out. Up 17-3 near the start of the second quarter, the Saints embarked on an offensive campaign of follies.

Antonio Pittman had serious problems as Jamie Martin and Matt Baker's bodyguard in the backfield, regularly arriving late to pick up a blitzer. But he wasn't entirely to blame for any of the Saints' five fumbles through the third quarter. Terrance Copper fumbled when tackled at his own 34 in the second quarter, recovered by Bengal DT Domata Peko, who on the next Saint series forced Aaron Stecker to fumble. The Saints recovered that one, but on the very next play Jon Stinchcomb was beat inside by insider linebacker Eric Henderson, who sacked Martin. LB Caleb Miller picked it up and brought it back to the Saint 3.

That was a disastrous series for the Saints, which started with a false start on Zach Strief, a sack allowed by Pittman, Stecker's fumble then finally Martin's. Charles Grant and Will Smith stuffed Kenny Watson for a loss, then Doug Johnson fired incomplete twice to force a field goal.

On the next series, David Patten gained 16 yards on a nice catch and run, but on third down Martin was sacked again, this time by Bryan Robinson, lost the ball and Aaron Stecker recovered. Doug Johnson led the Bengals on a trip down the field from his own 35, making use of one of the Saints' new additions on defense, veteran linebacker Dhani Jones. An astounding seven straight plays the Bengals went after Jones, who was consistently beaten in coverage. He did manage to get a fingertip deflection of a pass headed into the end zone.

The Saints started in nickel formation with Simoneau and Shanle, but Jones came on the field in place of starting strongside linebacker Scott Fujita, recovering from his infamous waterslide heel injury. The Saints held in the red zone late in the half, as former LSU track star and receiver Bennie Brazell couldn't corral a high pass at the back of the end zone on third down. At halftime the Saints were ahead 17-12.

Despite reports that QB Matt Baker would see a half of playing time, Jamie Martin continued into the second half with the second and third team offense. That's when Martin found his only real weapon of the night in WR Lance Moore. Already winning the battle for kick returner, Moore has made remarkable progress as a receiver in practice and tonight led all receivers with six catches for 70 yards, helping Martin complete 14 of 19 passes for 139 yards.

The Saints opened the second half with rookies Pierre Thomas and Robert Meachem back to receive the kickoff. Jamie Martin followed with a strike for 13 yards to Moore and two players later another for eight yards. Aaron Stecker got little help from the reserve offensive linemen, bodyslammed once by Michael Myers in the backfield. Antonio Pittman too was stifled on most attempts, finding daylight only once in the third quarter after he showed good vision adjusting to the cutback lane.

Late in the third in Martin's final drive, the protection was there and he got the offense going after getting one final fumble out of the way on a back quarterback-center exchange with new rookie center Brian Ferentz. Pittman managed to fall on that fumble and would later cap the drive off. On third and 14, after the fumble and a false start on a finally healthy Jamal Jones, Martin found Lance Moore for a 19 yard gain, then for a 14 yard gain across midfield. All night long Moore made great adjustments on passes low and off by Martin, showed great sideline awareness and ability to after the catch.

Pittman rushed for seven, then Martin found Moore for another 15 on a slant and then Stecker on a dumpoff pass for seven. Down to the two yard line, Lance Moore beat his man and caught a shallow out but couldn't stretch out to his left side, putting the Saints down inside the one. Pittman punched it in from there, and the Saints had doubled up the Bengals 24-12.

Doug Johnson got the Bengals moving again but were stalled at their own 42. DT Rodney Leisle showed some good lateral stalk and movement to make a tackle on RB Curtis Brown. WR Tremain Hall, fighting for a practice squad spot, found daylight running parallel across the field then turned it up the left sideline for an apparent touchdown. But both Curry Burns and Marvin Mitchell were guilty of obvious touchdown nullifying blocking penalties, and the Saints invited Matt Baker to the starting lineup at their own 14.

With just under twelve minutes left, Baker's first series was a disaster. Pittman whiffed on a blitzing MLB Ahmad Brooks and Baker was pancaked. Late in a preseason game with the Saints fifth string quarterback, the had Bengals rushed seven. Pittman made a decent six yard gain, then Baker was sacked again when Pittman and the line allowed two different Bengals shots at their quarterback.

Back on defense late in the fourth, DE Anton Palepoi saw some good time and battled down two different passes by Doug Johnson to help kill a Bengals drive.

In his second and final drive, Baker had more luck, standing tall and showing a lively, arm. He has good footwork in the pocket and decent mobility. For the most part, his throws were on target. After Baker was cut by Dallas, Payton received personal recommendations from Tony Romo and Drew Bledsoe about Baker's potential.

Baker hit his first two passes, to Jones for 8 and TE Billy Miller for, a 15 yard strike thrown across his body down the left sideline. It was the first of several throws that Baker used to show off his tight spiral and arm strength.

On the next pass, Jamal Jones couldn't adjust to a deep throw that was underthrown so that Jones could make the catch. On that attempt Pierre Thomas was in and made an adequate pickup of an incoming blitzer that gave Baker enough time to step up and deliver. On the next pass, Thomas showed great elusiveness and also an amount of patience following his blockers for an 11 yard gain.

On the next two throws, Baker tried for Robert Meachem but couldn't find him near the right sideline, the second time he was tipped. His next four passes were complete for gains of 8 to Jones, 12 to Dudley, 15 to Ghent and 6 to Meachem over the middle. The completion to Ghent was a rocket, and Baker didn't force anything unwisely, twice rolling out and scrambling for a short gain when nothing was open. The last completion to Meachem set the Saints up at the Bengal 4 yard line, but three straight incompletions into the endzone brought Olindo Mare out for his second field goal of the night.

On third down Baker shot a corner fade route to Billy Miller that was a little too far. Miller is still sporting a bandage on his head from his waterpark incident.

Supersized reserve QB Jeff Rowe piloted the Bengals down the field in the final 1:50. Usama Young made a couple good tackles on this drive, but was beat on the last meaningful play of the game by former LSU receiver Skylar Green. The Saints rushed eight on the 3rd and 10 with seven seconds left, leaving Young lined up one on one with the speedy Green in the slot. Earlier, the Saints' other draft pick defensive back was lucky not to draw pass interference on a pass into the end zone.

Receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, last week's starters, missed the game. Colston was given the night off but Henderson has a hamstring problem he picked up against Buffalo last weekend. In their place, Terrance Copper and David Patten started and played well. Copper has been making a real push for starting work all offseason but simply doesn't have Colston's size and strength or Henderson's sprinter speed. Patten has apparently defeated his turf toe injury that limited in previous weeks.

Jonathan Goodwin also started for center Jeff Faine, who has a sore calf, and Zach Strief started for Jammal Brown, who has a bone bruise in his knee. Strief had missed time this past week with a death in the family. Fujita, as well as Brian Young and Rob Ninkovich, missed the game as expected. Reserve offensive linemen Jake Kuresa, Dave Yovanovits and Nick Sobic also didn't make it into the game, perhaps an indication of their chances to make the roster here.

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