After a few days of practice against the Patriots leading up to the game, the Saints will face off tonight against New England at Gilette Stadium for their second preseason game of the season. Hard to believe we’re just four days removed from the opener and already the Saints are set to take the field once again. Here’s five things I’m looking for going into this battle.
1. How does the depleded corner position handle Tom Brady and the Patriots’ receivers?
I’m not convinced with Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick that the Saints stood any chance of slowing down Brady and the Patriots’ offense. Without them, it will be the likes of Marquis Johnson, Corey White and Elbert Mack lining up against Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth. That probably doesn’t end well when Tom Brady is throwing to them and the linebackers/safeties will have their hands full with the ridiculous plethora of elite tight ends the Patriots boast. I fully expect the Patriots’ starting unit to march down on the Saints and expose their weak corners at will for as long as they stay in the game. But what if White or Johnson make a play? Any kind of positive statement against this kind of competition would be huge for the Saints’ depth once their top 3 corners return.
2. Can the players that made statements on Sunday pick up where they left off?
The biggest statements made in the Hall of Fame game to me were by Andy Tanner, Courtney Roby, Travaris Cadet, Curtis Lofton, Martez Wilson and Tyrunn Walker. Lofton and Wilson are guaranteed roster spots but the others are not. If those four can perform well in back to back games it really helps solidify their bubble status at worst. With Adrian Arrington possibly out long term and Nick Toon currently banged up, this is Tanner and Roby’s shot to extend their hiearchy over their on the roster. It will be interesting to see if Walker can come from nowhere to sneak a roster spot at backup defensive tackle. Cadet is probably not making this roster unless there’s an injury, but a couple more good games either lands him on another team’s 53 or the Saints’ practice squad.
3. Is there any separation in the kicker battle?
I told Ralph Malbrough on the podcast that Garrett Hartley was secretly jumping for joy when John Kasay’s 54 yard attempt was blocked. That’s not that it was Kasay’s fault (Michael Higgins completely whiffed on his block), but if Kasay were able to make that kick it would signal to the Saints that he’s capable of even more than what they count on him for – which is being automatic from inside 44 yards. Hartley’s big advantage over Kasay is perceived leg strength. Problem is, with Morstead handling kickoffs, a powerful placekicker leg has less value than an accurate one. In a deep dark and secret place in Garrett Hartley’s mind that he would probably not reveal to almost anyone, that blocked kick was a huge sense of relief. I’m sure he’s rooting for Kasay on the oustide in what is being termed a “friendly competition”, but there is no way deep down he’s not rooting against Kasay. By all accounts this battle is a dead heat, completely neck and neck. So will someone create some distance or separation today? I think Hartley could get a huge lift by getting an opportunity at a long field goal (over 48 yards) and converting. Kasay also majorly damages his changes if he screws up at what he does well, ie missed a kick inside 40 yards.
4. Can the second unit offensive line improve?
I thought the backup offensive line did an atrocious job overall. The pass protection for Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield on Sunday was not good, and they were pushed back often doing a poor job of creating lanes on the ground for Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. It didn’t exactly make me feel confident should something happen to the Saints’ starting five. Conversely, the starting unit looked as good as ever. But still, it would be nice to have at least a couple backups look the part in case they get called on. Can the backup o-line bounce back from a pretty poor performance to give the backup QBs more time to get rid of the football and allow the Saints’ running game to move the chains?
5. Who will win the Onome Ojo award this week?
On Sunday I think the Ojo award either goes to Travaris Cadet or Andy Tanner. I lamented to Ralph that I’m sick of offensive players winning this award (an award that goes to the most exciting no name Saints player in preseason that unrealistically and immediately gets touted as a frequent regular season contributor and 53 man roster lock by Saints fans). The Saints have had enough diamond in the ruff offensive players over the last six years to last two decades. Think about it, the Saints have had Jahri Evans (4th round), Carl Nicks (5th round), Zach Strief (7th), Marques Colston (7th), Lance Moore (undrafted), Pierre Thomas (undrafted), Brian de la Puente (undrafted), Jed Collins (undrafted), Chris Ivory (undrafted) all become major contributors. Name one guy on defense that fits that description? Every guy that has started for the Saints in the Sean Payton era has been a high draft pick or a free agent. The closing thing would be Junior Galette. I want them to just once turn over a stone that reveals an incredibly good young defensive player. In the Sean Payton era that has yet to happen. My pick this week was safety Jerico Nelson of Arkansas. Ralph’s pick was CB Corey White of Samford. Either of those guys playing well would ease my frustrations big time. Would the next Sammy Knight please stand up?