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Saints preseason doesn’t count, but it definitely matters

Here’s some takeaways from the 2017 Saints NFL preseason to this point, and also a look at 3 players to watch in tonight’s exhibition vs. the Ravens

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Up until their defeat of the Chargers in Week 2, the Saints hadn’t won a preseason game in 3 years.

How much that matters depends on the things you are looking for. Preseason wins and losses usually tell you more about the depth of a team. For instance, the Colts would regularly go 0-4 in preseason football with Peyton Manning at the helm, and then rip off 11-5 seasons when the games were real. They were also a top heavy talent team that typically remained relatively healthy, and conversely the ‘15, ‘16, and ‘17 Saints teams had that same issue. Only problem was they were considerably less talented at the top and incredibly unlucky as it pertained to health.

Reviewing this year’s exhibition season for New Orleans has given me some positive and negative takeaways (mostly positive) as it relates to what you can expect from this years version of the Saints.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers
Alvin Kamara struts across the goaline after a 50 yd TD run against the Chargers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Kamara has flashed similar to Michael Thomas last year. If you recall, Thomas had splash plays in Week 1 and Week 2 of last year’s preseason that suggested that the Saints may have hit big on a player. Turn on either of this year’s first two Saints games and you’ll see Kamara doing the same thing he did in college, and that’s making plays. Sean Payton didn’t give him the same fantasy endorsement that he gave Michael Thomas last year, but I expect “Kamaro” to rack up receptions and yard when the match-up permits. Based on his success to date, those match-ups should present themselves regularly for the Saints offense in both the pass and run game.

Drew Breessuccessor is not on the team. Chase Daniels is a step up from Luke McCown, but betting that Grayson will be that guy is a risky proposition. I’m sure there are some good things that he’s done during preseason, but his ball security under duress, pocket awareness, and ability to put the offense in scoring positions still appear to be things he’s struggling with. Ryan Nassib seems to have a leg up on him in all those areas, but his decision making at times is just horrendous as evidence suggests via his interception on a forced throw to Tommylee Lewis in the red zone versus the Chargers. Next year’s draft is loaded with QB talent, and I wonder if a 1st round selection of one is already predestined?

Team depth as it refers to a middle class is much improved. Preseason games are usually won and lost by the guys fighting for roster spots. The consequences of the Saints one player away moniker that they stuck with it for several years (that also got us a Super Bowl) finally reared its ugly head in 2014. At far too many positions, there were no B and C players. It was Drew Brees, Cam Jordan, and then who? There were no Craig Robertson’s, Sterling Moore’s, Brandon Coleman’s, or Daniel Lasco’s, otherwise known as middle class players that you can rely on in case of injury. We have that now, and with that also came our first two preseason wins in 3 years.

Resiliency is a good trait to have in this league. I saw a defense that gave up a game-winning TD to a rookie QB in Week 1 vs. the Browns, and then subsequently returned to deliver two straight shutouts (technically the points scored in the Chargers game happened on a pick-6 INT). They’ve been forced to play with paper thin leads because the offense has been inept, and have responded better than expected. This bodes well in the future of the team as a whole, because learning to not get too low from a Week 1 defeat while also not getting too high after a Week 2 win that they couldn’t pull out a Week 3 victory. This may not be the most talented team Sean Payton has assembled, but they will be tough and smart and really resemble that 2006 unit that he put together.

In college, talent makes the difference - and in the NFL its coaching. Guys can out-talent other guys in college, but once you reach the NFL, everyone is talented and receiving the right coaching to harness that talent is (in the words of Donald Trump) VERY, VERY Important! The staff that Sean Payton has put together to help lead the charge in 2017 is easily his best staff he’s had since the ‘09 Season. How do they compare?

  • 2009 - Sean Payton (HC) Gregg Williams (Former HC), Dennis Allen (Future HC), Doug Marrone (Future HC), Curtis Johnson (Future College HC)
  • 2017 - Sean Payton (HC) Dennis Allen (Former HC), Aaron Glenn (Former Player), Curtis Johnson (see above), Mike Nolan (Former HC)

This is not even including the additions of Bradford Banta as special teams coach and Ryan Nielsen as defensive line coach, whose respective units have been above average so far this preseason.

The defense is improved. I saved this for last because I realize that Saints fans are iffy on this, so I’ll try my best to quell your concerns. First, have you noticed after watching three games that the short quick throws (like screens and pick plays) that typically burned our defense have been all but ineffective? What about noticing the decline of mental errors? Did you know through 3 preseason games the Saints have 16 sacks? They had 30 in all of 2016. Perhaps you missed Marshon and Marcus (our 1st round CB and 2nd round S) nearly combine for a turnover last week vs. the Texans? What about the fact that Alex Anzalone (our rookie LB) had a pass deflection 20 yards down the field in Week 1 vs. the Browns? Can you tell me the last time a Saints LB had a pass deflection 20 yards down field? Don’t worry, I’ll wait!

In all seriousness, a lot of these points translate and I think the Saints are poised to make a run in what is easily year one of another 3-4 year window in the Sean Payton regime. The rebuild is over folks, and it’s time to get back to double-digit numbers in the W column.

Under The Lights: 3 to watch in tonight’s game vs. the Ravens

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns
Al-Quadin Muhammad sacks Deshon Kizer week 1 vs the Browns
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Maulet - DB

I can assure you that the Saints are high on this young man, but unfortunately an injury has severely limited his availability in games. He played a handful of snaps last week to get his feet wet in his return to action, and I fully expect him to get a full workload tonight against the Ravens. From my POV, I think he’s in direct competition with Damian Swann for the final DB spot, and I think the Saints would like to see him flash and take ownership of it. He’s more a natural in the slot, so I’ll be watching for him to make an impact from that position and to see if his physicality gets him in trouble with penalties.

Al-Quadin Muhammad - EDGE

The former Miami Hurricane has been all that and then some for the Saints. If you haven’t watched Rev’s film study on him, then you should do so and try not to get too excited. He’s recorded a sack in each of his preseason games and he’s flashed an ability to play the game within the game as an edge rusher. By that, I mean he’s shown the ability to string together different moves to get to the QB and isn’t just a one-trick pony. At this point, I’m pretty sure he has a spot secured on the 53-man roster over Obum Gwacham. So, I’ll be looking for him to maintain his level of consistency by continuing his sack streak and getting out of the game healthy so he doesn’t have to get stashed on IR /sarcasm.

Ryan Ramczyk - LT

He made the list last week, but unfortunately was unable to go, so I’m putting him here again. As a rookie, he needs all the reps he can get, so this 4th preseason game will be important for him. Ramczyk needs to stay healthy, as he’ll likely see a high snap count so they can get a good look at his conditioning and how he responds when tired on long drives (if a Saints QB can manage a long drive). Sean Payton also mentioned he was further along in run blocking (Kamara’s 50-yard run against the Chargers was behind he and Peat) than pass blocking, and the Ravens have a formidable front that should test him early and often.

Random Thought I: Feels like the Saints got out of their own way again by losing out to the Steelers in the relatively brief, but interesting Joe Haden sweepstakes. A veteran DB on his last legs cut by a team that uses a defensive scheme that’s reliant on CBs seems like a story we’ve read before. I’m not saying he’s Brandon Browner, but I don’t think we needed to find out either.

Random Thought II: Sometimes, there is nothing better than the good ole eyeball test. Pay attention to who pops off the screen tonight. If they standout to you, then they probably stand out to the coaches. Preseason Week 4 is an opportunity for a young player (or any player) that’s on the bubble to state their case and make themselves a hard cut.

Be safe in this weather and enjoy the game tonight Who Dat Nation!