The New Orleans Saints kick off their 53rd season of NFL action with a Monday night showdown against the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans. The Saints are coming off a 13-3 season, and are once again expected to be among the top contenders for the Super Bowl. Houston, entering their 18th season as a franchise, went 11-5 last year, and have some of the best talent in the league. After a disappointing first round playoff exit last year and some risky roster moves this offseason though, some that follow the team believe that coach Bill O'Brien might be on the hot seat. The game will be played in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, where the Saints have one of league's toughest home field advantages, particularly in prime time.
This is just the fifth time these two franchises have met, with each team winning two of the matchups so far. New Orleans has won both games played between them in the Superdome, scoring a combined 71 points in the two contests. The first time they met was on September 14th, 2003, in the second game of just the second season of the Texans existence. Houston held a 10-7 halftime lead, but a more talented Saints team would flex it's muscle in the second half. New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks hit wideout Donte' Stallworth for a long score early in the 3rd quarter to regain the lead, as they rolled to 24 unanswered second half points on the way to a 31-10 victory. Saints wide receiver Joe Horn caught 10 passes for 111 yards in the win, while Deuce McAllister added 112 total yards and a score on the ground, as the two accounted for 223 of the team's 292 total yards. The New Orleans defense held Houston to only 258 total yards, intercepting quarterback David Carr twice and sacking him five times, two by end Willie Whitehead. A 40-yd. interception touchdown return by Saints linebacker Derrick Rodgers late in the 4th quarter would provide the clinching score.
Saints head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees are 1-2 against the Texans since their arrival in 2006, but did win their only meeting at home against them. They would meet the Texans for the first time on November 18, 2007 in Houston. Brees completed 33 of 49 passes for 290 yards on the day, including a combined 21 passes to Marques Colston (9 rec-118yds) and Reggie Bush (12-70), but threw two interceptions and only one score. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub countered with 293 yards and two touchdowns in the game, including 120 yards and a long score to wideout Andre Johnson. The Saints were held scoreless in the second half in falling to a 23-10 defeat.
A prolific record setting New Orleans offense would face the Texans in the Superdome on September 25th in the third game of the 2011 season. Drew Brees would pepper the Houston defense for 370 yards and 3 touchdowns on 31 completions, with tight end Jimmy Graham (4 receptions for 100 yards, 1 score) and wide receiver Lance Moore (9-88, 1) having the biggest games. The Saints and Texans would combine for 927 offensive yards in the game and 37 fourth quarter points during this shootout. New Orleans would finally take the lead for good when rookie running back Mark Ingram ran a score in from 13 yards out with less than three minutes remaining, and a Moore 2-pt. reception gave the Saints a 40-33 win in a thriller.
The last time these two teams met was in Houston on November 29, 2015. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt single handedly made mincemeat of the New Orleans game plan that day, hitting Brees 8 times, sacking him twice, and forcing a fumble. The Saints were held without a touchdown, only mustering two field goals on the day, and the defense was equally feeble. Houston rolled up 167 yards on the ground, and quarterback Brian Hoyer threw only six incompletions in 27 attempts during a dominating 24-6 win.
Drew Brees is 5-8 in season openers as the New Orleans starting quarterback, but 4-3 at home. The Saints have lost their last five season openers however, giving up an average of 35 points in those losses. The Texans have lost 3 of their last 4 season openers, including each of the last two. Both teams have tremendous talent on each side of the ball, but like most games the battle should be decided in the trenches. Saints linemen Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are arguably the best offensive tackle tandem in the league, but will be severely tested against Houston edge rushers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. New Orleans will likely rely on a quick rythm passing attack, taking advantage of what looks like a mismatch between dominant wideout Michael Thomas against the Houston secondary, and also look to establish a run-pass balance early. The versatile skills of running back Alvin Kamara will again be utilized around the offensive formation to give him an advantage against Texan linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham.
Defensively, the Saints will look to bring heavy pressure on Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was sacked an NFL high 62 times last season. Houston traded for Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil less than a week ago, along with drafting two linemen in the first two rounds last spring. New Orleans may look to send inside blitzes and run outside stunts to challenge the cohesion of the new additions on Houston's line and disrupt Watkins. If successful, the Saints defensive backs would benefit by playing tight physical coverage on talented Texans receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills to eliminate a quick throw and perhaps create turnovers because of pressure up front. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple will play physical football, and aided by pressure up front the secondary will make more plays than they allow, allowing the Saints to break the streak of poor defensive starts to begin a season.