They've had a week to clear their heads and focus on improving. Plenty of time for Epiphanies in Oxnard to have occurred, and I look forward to seeing how they respond to/bounce back from that performance.
In the spirit of looking forward, I have compiled a short list of my Hot Reads, or the specific things I will be paying close attention to in tonight's game, in order of importance.
Make the jump to go through my progression of reads for the game...
Protecting Drew Brees in the passing game is perhaps the most important function of the offensive line, and last week, it seemed that both Brees and Chase Daniel faced quite a bit of pressure, and they didn't look too good in the face of it (three fumbles).
Going into last week's game, we already knew there would be at least two new faces in starting positions for 2011 with center Jonathan Goodwin going to San Francisco, and the recent release of right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. Based on Friday's injury report, it looks like starter Carl Nicks and reserve Roger Allen will not play at all today, so there will be even more shuffling to put together a starting five and full game rotation of blockers.
What I'd like to see: Just enough solid play to give our QBs time to get rid of the ball smoothly. Hit the guy in front of you, be mindful of the blitzes and pressure packages, and don't commit a bunch of penalties.
I'd also like to see our QBs show a bit more grace under pressure. When things fall apart, risk management is key - accurately hitting the back on the dumpoff, sailing a pass out of bounds, or even taking a sack are all better options than forcing a bad throw or hanging on to the ball too long and coughing it up.
Textbook tackling would have turned last week's game into a completely different ball game. It was frustrating to see so many near-misses and complete whiffs by all levels of the defense last week as the Texans absolutely had their way with the Saints offensively.
What I'd like to see: Proper technique and swarming to the ball. The first guy does not have to always bring the ball carrier down, but at least get to the man quickly, wrap him up, and either complete the tackle or at least hang on and slow him down until the rest of the crew can help finish the job.
We all carried high hopes that the offseason overhaul of the defensive line would yield a front four with the ability to set some tone and impose its will on the opposing offenses.
After a decent opener against the 49ers in this regard (although you could argue that it was blitzes and extra pressure that dominated San Francisco, and not just the d-line), the Saints got absolutely manhandled at the point of attack by Houston.
Aubrayo Franklin, Sedrick Ellis, Jeff Charleston, and Tom Johnson are not expected to play tonight, and Junior Galette is only possibly going to see some playing time, so it will be interesting to see how the backups and camp bodies perform.
What I'd like to see: Hold your ground and clog up those lanes to stuff the potent running game of the Raiders. Generate some heat (without blitzing) on passing situations to make the quarterbacks uncomfortable. I don't necessarily need to see a double-digit sack total, but at least don't make it easy for them to complete passes, and remember that while a hurried incompletion on third down is not as glamourous as a dance-inspiring sack, it is still very effective, nonetheless.
This item is really the gravy on the ice cream sundae, the cherry topping on your mashed potatoes (Gravy? Cherry? Don't stop him, he's rolling.), because I'll be quite happy if I actually see what I'd like to see from the above areas, but it really seems that our place kicking game could use a bit of live action. In two games, Garrett Hartley has attempted only one field goal and five extra points. Given his shaky start in 2010, I'd feel better if he got more work this preseason.
What I'd like to see: After the starters build a commanding, multiple-touchdown lead, it would be great to see Hartley get at least one each of short, intermediate, and long-range field goal attempts (and make them, of course) to finish solid drives carried out by the backups.
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So there you have it. With my trusty depth chart and numerical roster in hand to help me identify who's actually on the field, I'll be focusing on those four areas to see how they play out this evening.
What will your 'Hot Reads' of the game be? Let's discuss in the comment section...