August 16, 2008

Texans Offense Walks Over Starters In 31-27 Shootout

The Saints' first six plays on offense netted nine yards. The first five passes Houston starting QB Matt Schaub netted 62 yards.

If anything is to be gleaned from a meaningless exhibition game, those two facts stand out.

The Saints offense, surprisingly featuring RB Reggie Bush who was reported to sit out, was stuck on their opening drive, partly thanks so some conservative run-only play calling and partly thanks to an enthusiastic Texans defense. On the punt, New Orleans native Jacoby Jones muffed the punt as Usama Young bore down on him and LB Troy Evans plucked the ball out of the air at the Texan 10.

Three plays later, the Saints kicked a field goal. Considering the Saints' desert storm in Arizona last week, the performance was a disappointment. DE Mario Williams and LB DeMeco Ryans led the attack.

That's exactly what it seemed like at times, that the starting Saints offense was defending against an attacking Texan defense. Still without Jeremy Shockey and hamstring by vanilla preseason playcalling, the Saints' offense on Saturday night was tamed.

The Texans took their opening possession down the Saints and, almost entirely against CB Jason David, scored a touchdown on a 26-yard deep post to Kevin Walter. David also allowed completions of 14 and 17 yards on the drive.

It wasn't until the Saints got the ball back that they finally made some headway. Veteran David Patten kicked things off with a 39-yard catch of a beautifully-placed fly pattern down the left sideline against CB Jacques Reeves. The Saints stalled again and settled for another field goal.

The Texans got the ball back and it was more of the same. Matt Schaub, who would be Atlanta's starting quarterback had the Falcons' moral compass pointed them to the dogs in Michael Vick's back yard, was on fire. Schaub picked the Saints apart with completions of 12, 16, 27,11, 7 and a one-yard touchdown. RB Curtis Taylor found 15 yards off left tackle during that drive.

At the top of the second quarter the Saints were down 14-6 and with more and more subs appearing on the field, they finally got the offense in gear. Reggie Bush left and right for one first down, then Brees hit wide open Campbell and a kneeling Patten for 38 and 13 yards.

Two plays later, Reggie Bush took a swing pass on the left side and leapt at the goal line, landing in stride after clearing CB Jacques Reeves. The spectacular touchdown vault ranks among Bush's best highlights, and came after a week of doubt and concern for a swelling knee.

On the next possession, Schaub found Kevin Walter again for 20 yards, this time courtesy of rookie CB Tracy Porter, then TE Owen Daniels rumbled downfield for 21 yards before Roman Harper banged him to the ground.

But the Texans stalled thanks to a great open-field tackle by Jason Craft on third down and settled for a field goal. It was the first minor victory for the Saints' defense on a night of few successes against any of the Texans' squads.

The Saints got the ball back and Brees picked up first downs on passes to Colston that gained 11 yards on a comeback route and 18 yards on a pass interference call. Deuce McAllister, after starting the game to cheers of "Deuuuuuce", came back on the field and made a couple cuts to pick up two first downs.

Down to the Texan 5 inside two minutes, Brees made the second highlight of the nice when he threw the fade to Marques Colston to the right sideline. The Saints' star receiver, playing the entire first half, played power forward against Jamar Fletcher, leaping and with one hand hauling in the touchdown.

Mark Brunell played the third quarter and is a field general. His throws were on target and with command and power downfield. Saints fans should feel more confident with Brunell backing up Brees, and that's not a slight against Jamie Martin. Brunell led the Saints down the field, helped when Lance Moore hauled in a bomb over his shoulder for 42 yards to the Texans 6.

Three plays later, Brunell rolled left on play action and found sprinting fullback Kevin Dudley for the short touchdown strike. That was the Saints' last score and put them up 27-24.

The lead wouldn't last, as Sage Rosenfels and WR David Anderson lit up Tracy Porter and moved the ball down to the 10 where RB Steve Slaton glided in for a touchdown. Rookie Porter is either still feeling the effects of his hamstring issue or needs an attitude adjustment, as he let up too early in pursuit more than once.

QB Tyler Palko was disappointing in his one drive of action inside of three minutes to play. Sean Payton will rake Palko over the coals during film review for lousy footwork.

Usama Young was walking around fine but tweaked his hamstring and left the game in the first half. Randall Gay left the game with an right triceps injury. Rookie Tracy Porter saw significant time because of those two injuries. Better news was that Reggie Bush's left knee, three days ago bad enough to keep him out of the game, looked great as Bush soared into the end zone. DT Brian Young also started the game, making his slow recovery from a painful knee injury.

Notes: Roman Harper is emerging as an enforcer. He's really pretty good at defending in the run. The Saints ran some formations early on with Roman lining up late with the linebackers and numerous times Harper was the key to blowing up the run... Sedrick Ellis looks good, though he probably would have drawn a 15-yard penalty when he put the crown of his helmet into Matt Schaub's knee. Ellis' needs to turn his numerous penetrations into plays instead of almost-plays... CB Jason David just gives too much cushion. Even if he was expecting safety help on the suddenly fantastic Kevin Walter's touchdown, its not like any other receiver in the area was pulling David's attention elsewhere. Its very dissappointing to see, though to David's credit he is still proud and fighting... If Pierre Thomas hasn't already won the kickoff return job, he should. He breaks too many tackles and the Saints must get him on the field... G Tim Duckworth was in the game for the third offensive play, replacing G Jahri Evans... DT Orien Harris led the Saints in tackles with six. The former Miami Hurricane has benefited most from Hollis Thomas' injury... S Chris Reis is a special teamer by nature, but its still good to know that if needed to, he could play on defense and level somebody. Reis had some good hits Saturday night... G Andy Alleman is in the thick of a very, very tough competition in the interior offensive line. Two false penalties, both on third downs, got him yanked from the game. QB Mark Brunell was able to recover from both with long completions to Terrance Copper and then Lance Moore... Josh Savage has probably earned the fourth DE job, should the Saints keep four at the spot. Savage is a defense end in the same more than Brian Young is a successful tackle, playing undersized but with quickness and energy. Savage though is so tall that he can too easily be leveraged out of the action. He's got to move his arms better...

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