This is the one everyone has been waiting for
Not that the New Orleans Saints' first two preseason games weren't highly anticipated or lacking drama; jobs are on the line every day during training camp and preseason games, so performance always is being evaluated.
But the third preseason game traditionally has been the one that most closely replicates a regular-season game, from the standpoint of starters playing the better part of the game. And that's what has ramped up the anticipation around the Saints' preseason game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
For purposes here, it makes it a little bit easier to forecast who might be playing, and when, against the Jets. So, here goes:
FIRST HALF: Starting quarterback Drew Brees will make his preseason debut, and the expectation here is that he'll play the entire first half and maybe into the third quarter. Much of that will depend on the level of execution; if the offense is able to put together a few scoring drives – say, a touchdown and a couple of field goals, or two touchdowns – then that might be enough to get Brees off the field after the second quarter. The Jets won't spare the rod with Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. They'll blitz and try to pressure, which may lead to some high-reward possibilities for Brees and the Saints. It'll help that Terron Armstead should be in at left tackle (he also hasn't had to play much this preseason) and all the rest of the offensive weapons will be available (receivers Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jared Cook) for as long as Brees is on the field. Focus on rookie center Erik McCoy, because New York will challenge him. This will be his first game action with Brees and as well as practice may have been going, it could be a tad different with the Jets' interior defensive linemen breathing on his helmet. Defensively, the Saints' starters were outstanding against the Chargers in that preseason victory. The unit will add defensive end Cam Jordan, who sat out the first two preseason games, and it, too, will want to string together several good series before heading to the sideline. The linebacker rotation now has to include rookie Kaden Elliss because of injuries, but he looks like he's picking up the schemes. Expect to see defensive end Trey Hendrickson rotate in on the defensive line (he has been an eye-opening rusher during training camp) and rookie safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson also seems to be settling in. The starters opened the Chargers game with a fourth-down stop, a three-and-out and an interception. The plan is to pick up where they left off.
THIRD QUARTER: Brees may open this quarter, as well as the rest of the starters on offense and defense. Expect Teddy Bridgewater to make his appearance in the third. He was admittedly shaky against the Chargers (he was ill), so Bridgewater obviously would like to play better against his former team. His protection and targets will change, so this may be the chance for rookie receiver Emmanuel Butler to put something positive on the board. He has been fantastic in practice, but dropped his only catchable pass against the Chargers. The line likely will feature Cameron Tom at center and Nick Easton at guard, so protection should be adequate but, again, if there's any hesitation, the Jets are going to make the Saints pay. Michael Ola continues to make his case for being the Saints' backup offensive tackle. Simmie Cobbs and Keith Kirkwood also may get a chance to shine at receiver, and keep an eye on Cyril Grayson. The speedster could make a big play if there's adequate time. On defense, tackle Taylor Stallworth has been flying under the radar during camp, but end Wes Horton has been getting more and more quality reps. If Hendrickson joins him at defensive end, they'll spend some time in the offensive backfield.
FOURTH QUARTER: Taysom Hill is at quarterback. Enough said. He has been the Saints' best offensive player in the first two preseason games, and we expect to see him make something happen whether protection holds firm or if it breaks down. Maybe we'll see Deonte Harris get some snaps at receiver; we already have a decent idea what he can do as a returner, but he'll help his case if he can provide some reps at receiver. At running back, this could be Dwayne Washington's quarter but, just as likely, Devine Ozigbo will take the reps and try to make an impact. On defense, Vince Biegel at linebacker and defensive end Corbin Kaufusi will try to impress the Saints and his older brother, Jets defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi. Cornerback Ken Crawley will help his case for a roster spot with a positive play or two.