Cam Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro spark the Saints' defensive effort against Titans

The Saints should be excited about what Cam Jordan and Kenny Vaccaro could have to offer this season after emerging as stars last year.

While all preseason caveats should be applied, both players popped several times during Friday night’s 31-24 win over the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Jordan did not put much on the stat sheet, finishing with one sack and one tackle, but the film from the game tells a different story — one where Jordan served as a disruptive force for the Titans’ offensive line.

His sack was one of the more impressive plays of the night and illustrated why Jordan shouldn’t settle for a repeat of last season’s 12.5 sacks.

On the play in question, Jordan was rushing off right side of the line and was initially blocked by left tackle Michael Roos. Guard Andy Levitre then came over to assist. Quarterback Jake Locker believed he had a running lane, but Tennessee needed more forces.

As Locker began to escape the pocket, Jordan made a quick spin move up field, shedding both blockers, and took down Locker for a loss of a yard.

Jordan should have had two other sacks. Later in the first half, he was once again blocked by two men and once again powered his way into the backfield. He teed Locker up but came in too high, and Locker was able to duck most of the contact.

A third opportunity for a sack was negated when an offensive lineman grabbed Jordan’s facemask to slow him down.

Most of Vaccaro’s contributions (four tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one tackle for a loss) showed up in the statistics, but a handful of hash marks fail to do his performance justice. The fumble in particular was one of Vaccaro’s most impressive plays of the night.

He started on the defensive left end and pursued Shonn Greene through the backfield up through the hole Greene hit between the left tackle and left guard. As Greene began to make his way up field, Vaccaro laid a hit on him, knocking the ball loose.

The second-year safety forced another fumble earlier in the game, this time Delanie Walker pulled in a pass, but the violent hit was negated when the officials determined Walker did not have possession of the ball.

These are the kind of plays that the Saints are going to need if they hope to improve on the 19 takeaways they recorded last season. The good news is if Friday is any indication, Vaccaro and Jordan appear up to the task.

Offensive line woes

It’s important to note that guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans were not on the field Friday night, so any of the struggles endured by the group should be accompanied with an asterisks.

Still, it has to be noted that the offensive line did not play its best game against the Titans. In fact, there were some moments that certainly will come up in this week’s film session as coaching points.

After helping running back Mark Ingram run for 83 yards on eight carries last week against the Rams, there were few holes for Ingram to hit against Tennessee. Multiple runs were stuffed on the opening series, and Ingram finished the game with 19 yards on five carries.

The issues also surfaced in the passing game. Right tackle Zach Strief was badly beaten on the right edge, leading to two incompletions by quarterback Luke McCown. On the first pressure he allowed, Strief did not appear to pick up his man until it was too late.

On McCown’s impressive third-down throw to Brandin Cooks on the first series of the game, left tackle Terron Armstead and guard Senio Kelemete both allowed their men to flood the pocket. McCown showed good poise by standing in and delivering a solid pass.

Kelemete has pieced together some solid practices, but he allowed at least four pressures while playing with the first-team offensive line.

Jonathan Goodwin was solid serving as the first-team center. One of his only down moments came when he was flagged for holding after Kelemete’s man broke into the pocket.

Notes

One thing of note last week was the number of runs to the left side of the field. Against the Rams, New Orleans ran 12 times to the left side and seven times to the right. The Saints on Friday ran 10 times to the left and 16 times to the right. This split was more in line with what the team did in 2013, when it ran 195 times to the right and 136 times to the left. … The Saints favored their 11 (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and 21 (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers) personnel formations against the Titans, using them on 62 of 70 snaps. What was interesting, however, is that New Orleans abandoned its 22 (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver) personnel after using it 24 times against the Rams. Perhaps it was due to the field position since the Saints used the formation only twice with seven or fewer yards to go last week.

Three stars

S Vinnie Sunseri: The fifth-round pick popped with four tackles, one sack, a pass breakup, and an interception. After the game, coach Sean Payton said he was impressed with how the rookie stepped up.

DE Cam Jordan: Jordan was a force Friday night; causing havoc for Tennessee’s revamped offensive line from the minute he stepped on the field.

S Kenny Vaccaro: The second-year safety looks like he is ready to take the next step in his development. If he is successful in doing so and can carry the momentum into meaningful games, it won’t be long before he is nationally recognized as one of the game’s elite safeties.

Three down

G Senio Kelemete: With Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans out, Kelemete is being given the opportunity to showcase why he deserves a spot on this team. It hasn’t all been bad, but there were enough shaky moments Friday to damage his stock.

T Zach Strief: The starting right tackle had a few letdowns against the Titans. They were likely mere hiccups and nothing to worry about moving forward. But the letdowns happened, which is why Strief lands on this list.

Team discipline: Being flagged 28 times and have 22 of those infractions is unacceptable. The whole team deserves to take a lap … or 22.