Saints defense rebounds after slow start, hinting at better things to come

HOUSTON — It only took five minutes for the New Orleans Saints defense to get its first big test of the preseason Sunday afternoon.

Texans running back Ben Tate took a handoff and ran around left end for 39 yards before he was finally brought down by New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins. Tate scored seven plays later on a 1-yard run.

Two drives later, Andre Johnson caught a 39-yard yard pass from Matt Schaub to set up a 55-yard Randy Bullock field goal.

The two big plays were the longest plays the Saints defense had given up all preseason and dug New Orleans into a 10-0 hole.

Despite the large chunks of yardage, the Saints defense, under first-year year coordinator Rob Ryan, also made some big plays and key stops in helping New Orleans stay undefeated in the preseason with a 31-23 win at Reliant Stadium.

“I think there is still a lot of room for improvement,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said.

“After that first or second drive, I think our defense definitely got a lot more stout, and I think we kept that rolling.”

Overall, the Saints defense gave up 496 yards — 355 passing and 141 on the ground — as well 30 first downs to the Texans.

New Orleans gave up 164 yards in the first quarter and 408 through three quarters.

“There were some things we need to get cleaned up,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought the initial start to the game wasn’t particularly great, but I thought after the second quarter, we played better.

“I thought we were a little better on third down defensively then the base, but there are a number of things we are going to have to work on and improve on even though it is getting late in this preseason.”

The Saints’ two biggest defensive plays were on third and fourth down.

Facing a third-and-9 in Saints territory, Schaub was sacked by Jordan for a 9-yard loss. Jordan blew past Derek Newton to get Schaub, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal.

“He’s been a guy that rushes the passer well for us,” Payton said. “It was very encouraging. It helps when you get good pressure with your four-man rush.”

On the Texans’ next series, Schaub was sacked again for a 1-yard loss by rookie free agent Glenn Foster, his fourth sack of the preseason.

“He has been a pleasant surprise for us,” Payton said. “He’s a guy that has been very consistent. He is a going to compete — not just to make this team, but he is going to compete for playing time.”

The biggest stop on defense was on the first drive of the second half. With the Saints holding a 24-16 lead, Ramon Humber stuffed Texans running back Deji Karim at the 1-foot line on a fourth-and-goal.

“They had some momentum going,” Humber said. “They had us on our heels with their play action and some of their runs, but when it came down to it, we knew what they were going to do and we stopped them.”

Added Jordan: “He’s undersized for a linebacker, but he definitely has a very big heart. He has a lot of tenacity, and that is what you like to see in a player. He is downright nasty and viscious when it comes down to what he does, and that is what you want in a linebacker.”

First-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro led the Saints with six tackles — five solo, while Malcolm Jenkins and Humber had five each.

“I think we are going to be an in-your-face defense — a defense that sets the tempo and not necessarily tries to prevent,” Vaccaro said. “We haven’t done a great job creating turnovers as far as picks and interceptions go, but I think we’re getting there.”