The Saints’ ability — or inability — to keep Drew Brees’ pocket clean was one of the bigger talking points exiting last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The quarterbacks were hurried at least a dozen times, and a target of sorts was placed on guard Jahri Evans’ back after he gave up a pressure and struggled at times in the running game.
He heard the talk. It bothered him.
“Obviously it does,” he said. “I’m a professional. It’s my craft. I know what I put in, and I know what comes out when I put the work in. It is what it is.”
On Saturday, during a 26-24 loss to the New England Patriots at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, what it was was solid. The first-team offensive line gave quarterbacks Drew Brees and Luke McCown as much as they needed in pass protection. Evans was one of the strong points of the performance.
The first-team offensive line gave up two pressures during the first half of the game, with both coming against left guard Tim Lelito. And one of those is debatable since it came when Brees was already releasing the ball to Mark Ingram on a wheel route. But Lelito was so quickly beaten by Chandler Jones that Brees likely would have been sacked if Ingram weren’t immediately open.
That goes down as a negative play during the preseason.
The high point for the line came when they bought Brees 3.37 seconds to connect with Brandin Cooks down the field for a 45-yard touchdown after a play-action fake. Another was later in the second quarter when they gave Luke McCown 3.31 seconds to throw down the field to Marques Colston. Evans bought McCown a little more time by dropping Dominique Easley to the turf.
The play resulted in a pass-interference penalty and moved the Saints inside the red zone.
“We got the tempo going, protected the quarterback and ran the ball,” center Max Unger said. “We should do those things all of the time. Our tempo really showed early. It was something that we were harping on during training camp. I think that it was a big factor and went pretty well.”
The rest of the performance by the offensive line was filled with mixed results. Evans laid a key block on Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins that sprung Khiry Robinson for a 17-yard gain on a screen pass. Later in the game, Lelito whiffed on a cut block that limited Ingram to a gain of 5 on a screen that easily could have been a big gain.
There were also too many “bad runs” during the contest. Tackle Zach Strief and Evans are both on the hook for missed assignments that led to run stuffs. Those issues need to be cleaned up before the start of the regular season.
But overall, there wasn’t much to nitpick about the offensive line during Saturday night’s performance. Evans put together a better performance, and the group was about as good as can be expected in pass protection.
“It’s still the beginning,” Evans said after Saturday’s game. “I think we did some good things today. We’ll go see the film and check it out and see where we can improve. I think we improve each day and from last week.”
The film should support his initial view.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks : He was even better on second viewing. The second-year receiver has developed as a route runner and has a better understanding of how to set people up. It showed all throughout Saturday’s game, and he appears to be on track for a big season.
Cornerback Kyle Wilson : It wasn’t perfect. But Wilson made plays Saturday night, breaking up at least three passes and providing physical coverage. After a forgettable camp, he took advantage of the starting secondary being out of action and improved his stock. He’s at least in the race now.
Wide receiver Brandon Coleman : The second-year receiver was targeted only once, and he let that one get punched out by Devin McCourty. It was a solid play by the defensive back, but Coleman could have done a better job protecting the ball. It’s not cause for concern, and he easily could have been the one targeted on the big gain by Cooks. He was also open during that play.
Quarterback Garrett Grayson : There are going to be ups and downs as Grayson figures things out. Last week’s game against the Ravens was a good moment. Saturday’s game was not. Grayson made some bad decisions, most notably the pass he forced into the end zone that was nearly picked off. He had 6.78 seconds to get rid of the ball there. A better decision should have been made. He has a lot to figure out, but he’s shown the ability to solve issues.