This, they say, is the one that counts.
The third preseason game is typically the one that teams treat as a dress rehearsal. The starters typically play longer, there’s more attention paid to the opponent and teams have most of everything installed by this point. In most cases, it’s the closest thing to a real game you can get before real games are actually played.
Just don’t expect it to be too real.
The Saints are using the week to get into more of a regular-season schedule and will stay in a hotel the night before the game, but they won’t spend too much time looking at the Texans and figuring out ways to beat them.
“I don’t know that from an X’s and O’s standpoint that there is more preparation for that game,” coach Sean Payton said. “Everything out here is (still) Saints on Saints right now.”
That’s probably a good thing. Houston and New Orleans meet again during the season, so it would be foolish to show too much and give away an edge that might be needed later. The teams don’t want to become too familiar with each other.
The best thing the Saints can do at this point is use the week to find answers to the many lingering questions that still remain after two preseason contests.
Chief among those issues is whether Brandon Coleman is the answer to the hole at wide receiver behind Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston. If practices were the only source for evaluation, there would be no questions remaining. Coleman has dominated in those sessions, but he’s yet to make an impact in a game. His chance last week resulted in an incomplete pass in the end zone.
And don’t forget the pass rush. This team hasn’t generated much in the first two games. Now would be the time to button that up and end the worrying.
If the Saints can answer those questions this week, they can cruise into the fourth preseason game confident in the direction things are headed.
THREE AND OUT
1. Breaux returns
Delvin Breaux has been one of the unquestionable stars of training camp. The issue is that we haven’t seen it in games. He was injured against Baltimore and hasn’t played since. This is the week he should return to action and start proving he can do it in games.
2. High Wattage?
If Texans DE J.J. Watt plays this week, we should get a good look at how the offensive line is coming together. There isn’t a more fearsome pass rusher in the NFL. If there are issues with the Saints line, he will expose them. DT Vince Wilfork should also test the interior of the line.
3. Stay sharp
The offense couldn’t have been much better last week. QB Drew Brees completed 8 of 10 passes and didn’t leave much on the table. Unless your standard of excellence is perfection, it would be hard to ask the offense to improve upon last week’s performance. This group just needs to maintain.
FOUR ROSTER BATTLES TO WATCH
1. Kyle Wilson vs. the field
Cornerback Kyle Wilson looked like he was headed to an early cut a few weeks ago. He struggled to make plays, was often picked on and appeared buried on the depth chart. He came back with a strong performance against the Patriots and looked good in practice this week. He might still be a long shot, but his odds are now a little better.
2. Undrafted rookies on the line
DE Bobby Richardson appeared to be a lock to make the roster early in camp. Then Kaleb Eulls, Tavaris Barnes and Ashaad Mabry started figuring things out. One or two of those guys are going to make the roster. It’s just no longer clear which ones are at the head of the pack.
3. Morgan vs. Morgan at wide receiver
It seems like either Joe Morgan or Josh Morgan is going to make the team. It’s also possible both make the squad. But right now, if the Saints only keep five receivers, one of them is going to go. The tough part is that both are performing well.
4. Return man: Who’s it gonna be?
All signs say Marcus Murphy is going to be the team’s top returner. But coach Sean Payton said earlier this week that the door is still open for Jalen Saunders to win that job. If he’s going to make the team, he’s going to need to have a big performance this week.
It looks like the offense is clicking. If Houston rolls everyone out this week, this game should provide a better barometer, but that side of the ball is the least of my concerns. What I really want to see this week is some pass rush. That remains the biggest question. And we might not see it until the regular season when the team starts dialing up some blitzes. But one can hope. Saints 21, Texans 21
Joel A. Erickson
The first-team defense held up well against New England despite playing short-handed, and now that several starters are back, New Orleans should be strong again. The pass rush remains a question, but against a Houston team still finding its way on offense, New Orleans defenders should have more than a few chances to pick up the preseason’s first sack. Saints 24, Texans 13
For a preseason game, this promises to be compelling stuff. Are the Saints going to capitalize on the sharp passing offense and tough secondary they displayed against the Patriots, and tack on a legit pass rush, too? New Orleans looked all that last year in a preseason Week 3 win at Indianapolis, so you never know. But better to give off the good vibes, and the bet here is the Saints will do just that. Saints 24, Texans 20