August 5, 2007

Saints Weak in Preseason Opener: Brees, offense off; secondary scorched in 20-7 loss

Drew Brees and the Saints offense, #1 in the league last year, were totally stumped against the Steelers starters.

Ditto for the defense, #13 in the league last year.

Last year at this point, the clear weak stop for the Saints was the offensive line, which looked under talented and lost against their preseason opposition. They turned it around, allowing the league's fewest sacks and powering a dominant offense.

This time around the secondary was just plain scorched. Mike McKenzie, Kevin Kaesviharn, Jason David, Jason Craft, Anwar Phillips were all victimized by Steelers receivers. Josh Bullocks somehow got away with pass interference and got himself run over. Fred Thomas was beat. Curry Burns missed tackles. Usama Young displayed poor tackling technique, as did many Saints on the night.

You have to look at fifth round pick CB David Jones for a good play in pass defense, though Jason Craft had a good breakup early on too. As expected, Jay Bellamy delivered some solid hits as did All-NFL Europa safety Chris Reis.

Overall this secondary was picked apart by Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre.

It isn't a bad thing. Last year's offensive line recognized that they were the question mark of the team, rallied around that and turned in a remarkable performance, including sending their left tackle to the Pro Bowl and getting major contributions from rookies Jahri Evans and Zach Strief.

But the secondary's top two prized acquisitions of the season, Kevin Kaesviharn and Jason David, were beaten badly by Cedrick Wilson and Santonio Holmes - two guys that are fast but don't exactly instill fear in defensive backs.

Drew Brees was just as disappointing, completing his first pass on a play action quick hitch to Colston, then missing badly on his next five. The offensive line, ironically, provided all four Saint quarterbacks with good protection all night long. The Saints didn't surrender a sack to the Steelers, and especially in the second half the line was creating huge pockets for Saint signal callers to dance around in.

Reggie Bush looked great. His first run was patient and showed great vision for a six yard first down gain. On his second run, Bush was stymied on a sweep to the left, but smartly dug in to the turf and pushed forward for a conservative two yard gain. At this point last year, Reggie might have reversed field, given up ground and taken a huge loss. With all the attention given to former Bills runningback Thurman Thomas in his Hall of Fame sendup, you wonder just how good Reggie could be with 25 carries a game. Thomas himself, when interviewed, question how long McAllister and Bush would stay together as a tandem.

Drew Brees took eight snaps before giving way to Jamie Martin, who played with Aaron Stecker but with the rest of the starting lineup that featured Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. After being shut out and shut down in the first half, Jason Fife entered the game in the third quarter and led the team on a 16 play drive powered by his arm and fourth round pick Antonio Pittman's legs.

Fife was 4-of-5 for 46 yards including a 14-yard gainer on a dumpoff to backup fullback Kevin Dudley and an 18 yard downfield strike to Terrance Copper, who made a great adjustment on the off-target pass. Pittman had 19 yards on six carries but showed good vision inside and on his first carry, good speed and balance getting outside. He looks like the well-refined runner with lots of collegiate experience he should be.

The drive was capped by Fife's back-foot bullet pass to Dudley in the left flat, who turned it up for a two yard touchdown reception. Fife's passes consistently zipped moisture off leather, but rarely found their target well. None of the Saint quarterbacks had a good night.

The Saints did collect three first half sacks. Marc Simoneau got to Charlie Batch when he and fellow linebacker Scott Fujita blitzed, and on the next play Hollis Thomas and Will Smith collapsed the pocket for the sack. Later, Brian St. Pierre would be smothered by Antwan Lake, Kendrick Clancy and Josh Cooper in a coverage sack.

The Steelers drove down the field on their opening possession against the Saints and scored when Najeh Davenport dove for the plane. He was set up by Cedrick Wilson, who beat McKenzie and Kaesviharn deep for a 55-yard bomb from Ben Roethlisberger, then beat a diving McKenzie on a shallow slant that he brought down inside the five. St. Pierre found WR Santonio Holmes deep behind Jason David on a 41-yard fly route, and then found Holmes wide open on the fade route, where Jason Craft was badly out of position. Field goals by Josh Reed in the second and third completed Pittsburgh's scoring.

Read NOPF's exclusive scouting report of the game here.

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