August 17, 2012
It’s often difficult, and most of the time foolish, to read anything into NFL exhibition games.
Especially in the first couple of outings.
But for what it’s worth, considering how long the starters and top backups played, the New Orleans Saints have shown something on each side of the ball in splitting their first two games.
First, it was an impressive offensive display in Sunday night’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game.
On Thursday, it was the the defense that turned in a solid performance in an otherwise dull 7-6 setback to the New England Patriots.
While most would expect the offense to look as good as it did in the first half of the Cardinals’ game, the defense’s effort had to be encouraging to anyone who’s been wondering what new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s group is going to be like.
Again, it’s only preseason. But so far, so good.
In allowing 17 points in their two games, the new-look Saints have made an impression with solid tackling — something they didn’t always do a good job of over the past three seasons — and decent pass coverage.
As a bonus, they’ve forced four turnovers on three interceptions and a fumble and have four sacks while applying consistent pressure to the quarterback.
The Saints certainly caught the eye of interim coach Joe Vitt in their limited game action so far under Spagnuolo, who so far has given a snapshot of what he expects from his team this season.
“I thought they played quicker and more confident because they have been in the system now,” Vitt said after Thursday night’s loss. “Spags has harped the last week on communication — pre-snap alignments and detail of your assignment — so we feel better about that.”
While the reserves gave up 63 rushing yards on the Patriots’ only scoring drive, a 97-yard march to start the second half, two plays stood out in the first half — with both resulting in turnovers.
First, Tom Brady was sacked by defensive end Will Smith, who dominated Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, with middle linebacker Curtis Lofton recovering the fumble that Smith caused.
Then, in the second quarter, rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was a disruptive force in getting into the Patriots’ backfield.
Hicks got a hand in the face of quarterback Ryan Mallett, whose wounded duck fluttered into the hands of Saints cornerback Marquis Johnson, who, like fellow cornerback Johnny Patrick, has played well in filling in for injured starter Jabari Greer.
“We give our football team those critical stats of what wins for us,” Vitt said. “We’re talking about the takeaway battle, winning the big play battle. We talk about pressuring the quarterback.”
Still, Vitt knows the Saints have to build on what they accomplished in a short five-day window between the first and second games.
At least, they’ll get a little rest before heading back to the practice field Monday to begin preparing for Friday night’s game with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Listen, any time you can improve in training camp, week to week and day to day, you’re happy with that,” Vitt said. “We made a significant jump defensively, and I think it’s to be expected from the second preseason game.”