Rabalais: Plenty of flags and turnovers for Saints

Some random thoughts and observations on Friday night’s New Orleans Saints-Tennessee Titans game.

DIRTY LAUNDRY: The Saints committed 10 penalties in the entirety of their 26-24 win at St. Louis in their preseason opener. They committed 14 penalties in the first half alone, an unbelievable 22 for 184 yards in the game, though two of those were on Jimmy Graham for dunking the ball after touchdown catches (a no-no in the No Fun League this season) and one may have been on rookie Brandin Cooks for speeding.

Saints coach Sean Payton gave Graham a pass on the first one but gave Dr. Dunkenstein the business after the second. Payton suffers few exhibitions of foolishness even if it’s in an exhibition game, and that’s understandable. Graham’s misplaced exuberance may have inspired some of the Saints’ sloppiness.

Whatever the cause, the Saints need to cut down on the flags, pronto, with two preseason games left. A good goal would be single- digit hankies next Saturday at Indianapolis.

BAKED GOODS: Causing turnovers has been THE cause célèbre for the Saints defense this preseason after New Orleans forced just 19 all of last season.

The Saints came up empty in St. Louis, but struck a gusher against the team once known as the Houston Oilers (Luv ya blue!). New Orleans forced five turnovers, four fumbles and an interception of former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (more on him shortly).

Now some of that perhaps can be attributed to Titans ineptness, but it was the best stat of the night for New Orleans. If this defense can be top 10 in turnovers (29 made the top 10 in 2013) and maintain last year’s high level of play, it will result in some real wins this season.

THE PLACEHOLDERS: Both starting quarterback Luke McCown and third-stringer Ryan Griffin had their moments Friday night.

McCown moved well in the pocket as he completed 12 of 19 passes for 117 yards. He led New Orleans to an opening touchdown drive by completing six passes to four different receivers. Griffin continues to press the No. 2 quarterback issue, completing 13 of 20 for 179 yards aided by a couple of big bombs to Joe Morgan. The Saints could find great value in keeping Griffin as their only other quarterback besides Drew Brees. Both Griffin and McCown should find work somewhere.

Brees was a spectator again Friday night, shackled to the sideline for the second straight week by the oblique muscle he strained earlier this month in training camp.

In and of itself, Brees’ absence had little importance. Despite a lengthy list of other injuries the Saints still had enough talent to subdue the Titans with McCown and Griffin running the show. And, let us re-emphasize, it was a preseason game.

What could be very important is whether Brees practices Sunday when the Saints hit the fields in Metairie.

If he works out, full go, and looks on target to play at Indy, no problem. If he doesn’t, then the prospect of Brees playing in what is traditionally the most important game of the preseason becomes clouded. And if that’s the case …

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. But you know the saying: once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. A trend the Saints don’t want to have one thing to do with.

THE SECOND COMING OF METT: The Zach Mettenberger Louisiana Reunion Tour was on fine form Friday night as the former LSU quarterback and Titans sixth-round draft pick played most of the way for Tennessee after starter Jake Locker retired and prime backup Charlie Whitehurst went down with a hand injury.

Mett drew applause from the Saints/Tigers fans when he entered the game in the second quarter and even more when he hooked up with Justin Hunter on a 64-yard touchdown. The play was more run than pass, but the aerial definitely had that familiar Metten-zipper smoke on it.

He finished the night completing a nifty 20 of 25 for 269 yards with two TDs, a fumble when he was sacked from behind by Cam Jordan and an interception by Vinnie Sunseri. Mett showed no ill effects from his season-ending knee injury in November against Arkansas.

The Titans haven’t made a public pronouncement, but have basically let it be known they will keep three quarterbacks on their roster. Based on his play so far, Mettenberger’s immediate pro future seems assured.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.