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Saints vs. Chargers: Three areas to watch

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All eyes will be on the Saints and Chargers on Sunday afternoon, but what are the big areas to pay attention to for the black and gold?

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s second week of preseason action is almost at its end, with just three matchups left on the docket between Sunday and Monday. The New Orleans Saints (0-1), who have already been on the West Coast this week for joint practices, meet the Los Angeles Chargers (0-1) on a nationally televised CBS broadcast (Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts with the call) on Sunday. It’s the third straight year these two meet in the preseason, with the series being split at 4-4. Here’s a few things we’re looking forward to and paying close attention to after kickoff.

The Starting Lineup

“Obviously we’re going to play our ones a little bit longer into this game like we typically do. You’re wanting to see some of the mistakes cleaned up from a week ago,” Sean Payton said during Friday afternoon’s press conference.

Last week, Teddy Bridgewater started against the Minnesota Vikings and had a pretty strong showing. However, we’re all always interested in seeing what Drew Brees brings to the table — especially with his new offensive tools in Jared Cook and Latavius Murray. Starters like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas saw a few series of action, while others like Andrus Peat, Cameron Jordan, and Ted Ginn Jr. were present, but missing from the lineup.

It’s unclear as to how long the starters will actually play (and who will suit up for that matter), as the third preseason game is typically the ‘dress rehearsal’ for many teams. However, the sample size we get from whoever is in the game will be something everyone will dial in and react (or overreact) to.

Defensive Improvement

Sean Payton echoed growth being a main theme in going from one game to the next, and that’s something the Saints defense needs to work on after a very pedestrian outing against the Vikings the first week. The Vikings had success against all of the Saints defensive looks last Friday, netting 457 total yards of offense and going 5-for-7 on third down conversions.

“You’re always looking for that step forward. When you talk about game one and game two, you’re looking for pressures on the quarterback. You’re looking for a turnover on defense and you’re always looking for that next step forward. So whatever that is for us, that’s what we’ve got to get better at.”

It’s hard to make much of the first preseason game when it’s mainly vanilla playcalling on display, but there are things like Payton alluded to that you want to see improve. The pass rush comes to mind, as Marcus Davenport was doubled often against the Vikings and mainly a non-factor. There were good things to takeaway from the first game, like Marshon Lattimore’s name hardly being called and some flashes here and there from the linebacking unit and defensive line.

Needless to say, the Saints have some tough offensive foes on their hands right out of the gate and will already be without Sheldon Rankins (PUP) and David Onyemata (one-game suspension) to start the year. The last thing this team needs is to take a step backwards defensively.

Rookie Encores

Erik McCoy, Cyril Grayson Jr., Kaden Ellis, Deonte Harris, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey were some of the rookie names that stood out from the first week of action. A fully healthy Emmanuel Butler, who was reportedly dealing with a foot injury, should be someone who fans are looking to capture the spotlight. Of course, being the ‘camp champ’ is meaningless (see players like Corey Fuller from last year).

The younger wide receivers have a real shot to crack the roster and arguably have a leg up on one of the incumbents, Keith Kirkwood. With Rishard Matthews abruptly retiring and Cameron Meredith being released in late July, it opened up the door for the Saints to legitimately have at least one of these guys crack the final 53-man roster. Ultimately, who steps up is anyone’s guess, and there’s a case to be made for just about anyone.

What will you be watching for on Sunday?