With the New Orleans Saints 17-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the annual Hall of Fame game, the NFL preseason is officially underway. As fans, we are constantly reminded that wins and losses do not count in the preseason, which makes it so odd to follow. Nevertheless, I still found myself screaming at the TV Sunday night from The Fillin' Station in Biloxi, where I was watching the game after the Saints botched a punt return in the second quarter that put them back at their own one yard line.
While wins and losses may not matter during the preseason, the games still serve a purpose, even if too many of them are scheduled. They give coaches and general managers the opportunity to decide which players to keep and which to cut, and to try out new formations. Not being given the authority to make those executive decisions, as fans, however, we become detectives looking for indicators on how well the team will play during the regular season, with special emphasis placed on the difference in performance between when the "starters" are in and when the reserves are.
So, what did we learn from the Saints victory over the Cardinals? Nothing too revealing if you follow the team closely. Drew Brees did not appear to be suffering from any rust from his long contract holdout, leading the offense on a 79-yard scoring drive on their opening possession which was cappped off by a one yard run by Mark Ingram into the end zone.
While we did not see any deep passes from Brees, the running back corps definitely appeared crisp and focused. Ingram made a nice cut on a red zone run prior to his touchdown that looked reflective of his Heisman trophy status. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles each had runs of ten yards or more, and picked up big yardage after the catch on dump offs and screens from Brees.
The absence of Sean Payton was replaced by more camera time for the Saints assistants, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo seemed like a natural fit standing on the sideline in his knit Black and Gold coaches shirt.
Spagnnuolo's defense got off to an impressive start when free safety Malcolm Jenkins snagged a Kevin Kolb pass on the Cardinals opening offensive play, which the Saints will need more of from Jenkins this season. The defense also seemed to respond well to Spagnuolo's style of relying more on straight ahead pressure and less on gimmicks as defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis got a bounty-free hit on Kolb that knocked him out of the game and hybrid linebacker/defensive end Martez Wilson displayed his pass rushing emergence with two sacks.
Free agent pickup middle linebacker Curtis Lofton from the Falcons also performed up to high expectations as a run-stuffing middle linebacker in his debut in the Saints uniform and showed why the loss of Jonathan Vilma for the year (pending court decision) may not be that bad .