Against the Texans this past Sunday, the Saints' managed their third consecutive pre-season victory in a game that provided us with its fair share of pleasant surprises and disappointing performances. A few players like Cameron Jordan and Glenn Foster continued their dominant pre-season, while others like Keenan Lewis gave the collective Who Dat nation a minor heart attack.
Back to Jordan and Foster, the two have been virtually unblockable the past three games. On Sunday they combined for two sacks and an additional three QB hurries while also both managing to play the run well. In all three games this pre-season, these two have combined for seven sacks on 22 total QB pressures - making them Pro Football Focus's two highest graded 3-4 DE's. Jordan has played the run well since day one, but if he can maintain even half of this pass rushing productivity he will be a borderline all-pro this year. Foster, an undrafted free agent out of Illinois, entered camp an unknown but has almost guaranteed himself a roster spot with a consistent presence in opposing backfields.
Another young 3-4 DE who has made a name for himself this off-season, Tyrunn Walker made his presence felt with a hurry, a batted pass and a run "stop" against the Texans. Walker's very impressive pre-season is making it difficult for the Saints' to cut him, and could be a part of an exciting young rotation along that line.
Disappointingly inactive on the defensive line, however, was second year man Akiem Hicks, who I have been predicting a huge year from. Hicks wasn't able to generate any QB pressures on 14 pass rushes, and although he made four tackles he was unable to record a defensive "stop" (a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure). Yes, it's only pre-season, but you'd still like to see a bit more production here.
As highlighted in this re-focused article, David Hawthorne had himself a fine afternoon. As Sam Monson points out, Hawthorne was consistently blowing up run plays in addition to holding his own in coverage. If Hawthorne can keep this up and return to his 2011 form, he just may push Jonathan Vilma out of the starting lineup.
Rufus Johnson quietly had himself a nice day, too. Johnson was able to record two QB pressures and one "stop" in limited time. He hasn't gotten much attention, but has been in the oppositions backfield quite a bit throughout the pre-season. Moreover, he has played the run pretty well for a prospect who most saw as a pure pass rusher. Despite the signing of Parys Haralson, the loss of Will Smith represents a clear opportunity for Johnson to earn himself a contributing role.
Also discussed in the aforementioned re-focused article was Keenan Lewis, only the context wasn't quite as flattering. Lewis, to put it lightly, got absolutely owned by Andre Johnson. Yes, Andre is one of the most polished receivers around. But when you spend big money on a CB like the Saints did with Lewis, you don't want to see him give up six receptions for 111 yards in limited time.
On the other side of the field, Patrick Robinson looked like he really belonged on the field (which we all know wasn't always the case last year). One play in particular comes to mind when Robinson was targeted on a relatively deep throw down the sideline. He was stride-for-stride with the receiver, turned to locate the ball and made a nice play to knock it out of the receivers hands. Speed was never an issue last season, but he seemed to seldom turn and locate the ball when thrown at, looking lost in the process.
In what we can only hope is a glimpse of more to come, Kenny Vaccaro was around the ball often and graded positively against both the run and pass. Vaccaro again led the Saints in solo tackles with five, two of which counted as "stops." Vaccaro has graded positively in coverage the past two games which bodes well for his playing time going forward since incumbent starters Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper have been unable to cover anyone the past two seasons. If you're interested, check out this article which charts the pre-season performances of all first round picks. While Vaccaro is among the stronger performers thus far, Saints' fans will be happy to hear that the Atlanta Falcon's first round pick, Desmond Trufant, has struggled mightily. Don't be surprised to see Drew Brees target Trufant's man early and often in the season opener.
Stay tuned for my rundown of individual grades on the offensive side of the ball which should be up before the game starts.
More from Canal Street Chronicles:
- Saints Preseason News, 8/28/13: New Saints CB Keenan Lewis Promises To Be Ready By Season's Start
- NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Defense Tops NFC South
- Saints Roster Cuts 2013 Injury Report
- Saints Waive Eric Martin, Tim Toone; Joe Morgan, Will Smith, Chris Chamberlain to Injured Reserve
- New Orleans Saints Preseason 2013 Questions and Answers