The Saints are playing the Houston Texans today, and the it's Week 3. This means that the Saints will likely have their starters on the field for about a half, and they'll be facing Houston's starters for approximately the same period of time. This is the best assessment of how competitive the Saints will be this year. The starters were tremendously impressive against the Patriots in Week 2, but that was only for a quarter. If that success is sustainable for a half, it may give a better indication of how they'll perform.
Take all of this with a grain of salt, as coaches generally use watered down playbooks, but it's a good show of the talent going against each other mano y mano.
1.) Khiry Robinson
With the rumors swirling that CJ Spiller will miss 1-2 weeks after his scope, Robinson should get a heavy dose of carriesagainst the Texans' defense. Robinson has impressed thus far in the preseason, earning his role in the Saints' backfield. Marcus Murphy may also get a few extra touches for the Saints, although it's been made abundantly clear that he's largely a kick return specialist, where he has impressed in the first two weeks.
2.) The Trenches (Offense)
The Saints are going up against the best pass rusher in the NFL in JJ Watt today, which means that they'll have to allocate their resources to defend him. Take note of how the Saints stunt and pull in order to mitigate the effect that Watt has on the game, and also watch how the rest of the line (Saints and Texans) reacts. The Saints need to minimize the number of hits that Drew Brees takes throughout the season, and tonight is a great place to start seeing where they stand in that regard.
3.) Secondary (Especially corner play)
Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro still aren't playing today (as far as we know), so safety play is largely irrelevant in evaluating the Saints' starters. The corner depth was atrocious against the Patriots last week, but the starters performed fairly well. If the Saints can hold back the likes DeAndre Hopkins for a half (even with relatively subpar quarterback play), it would go a long way towards seeing where the secondary stands.
4.) Rookie progression (particularly linebackers)
Hau'oli Kikaha has been an absolute animal this preseason, flying to the ball and being involved in seemingly every play that he's in for. What's really been impressive has been his ability to get to the ball carrier, even when he starts away from the play, since he was pegged as a pass rushing specialist with few other skills coming out of college. Stephone Anthony has shown improvement since a spotty Week 1 appearance, looking more comfortable against the Patriots in Week 2. He still has a long way to go, especially being the signal caller, but he does a good job reading plays, he just needs to assert himself in them more.
5.) Dustin Hopkins & Zach Hocker
These are the two players involved in the kicking competition for the Saints, and both have performed well thus far. The Saints went for 2 on three separate occasions last week against the Patriots (the last two seemingly to right the ship in the score), but they'll likely attempt extra points today (as those 3 points ended up being the difference in the game last week). It was an odd decision in the first place, but Payton will likely want to see what these two can do in an in game kicking situation (here's hoping for many opportunities).
Bonus 6.) The offense
The Saints' offense looked in midseason form with Brees at the helm last week, so it's time to see if that's sustainable. Brandin Cooks has been amazing to watch so far, and with Brees throwing the ball to him for a half instead of a quarter, keep an eye on his numbers. Mark Ingram has also vastly improved receiving out of the backfield, and the Saints have utilized him well so far. Expect to see several more receptions for him today as well.
It's going to be an important game against the Texans to gauge how ready the Saints are for 2015. Despite their issues at quarterback, the secondary will need to have a better showing than they did against the Patriots last week. There are cuts to be made after this game, so expect to see some risk taking from both sides as players try to differentiate themselves from the pack.