The initial brush strokes weren't as smooth, bold or decisive as anyone had hoped they'd be. But by the end, the total creation was a vision of promise for the New Orleans Saints' defense in its debut under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
New Orleans' 17-13 victory over Kansas City on Friday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in the preseason opener for both teams, was buoyed by a defensive unit that surrendered a 14-play, 80-yard drive on the Chiefs' opening drive, but little afterward.
The Chiefs, in fact, finished with 215 yards of offense, and the Saints produced four sacks and a turnover after the initial possession.!(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/New-Orleans-Saints-vs-Kansas-Chiefs/69a75aa8-13cb-4fde-a634-dde28d0541b8 "New Orleans Saints Photos")
"After that first series, I thought we played better defense," Coach Sean Payton said. "We got into the right down and distance.
"I thought we settled in. The first series…they ran a little bit of a no-huddle so I think that tempo was a little bit unsettling. But I thought we settled down after that first series."
The offense chipped in with a pair of touchdown drives of 80 and 82 yards, respectively, with 13- and 10-play marches each punctuated by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Luke McCown to Preston Parker.
That unit produced 427 yards of offense, with the first-team offense playing into the early portion of the second quarter and generating a 10-play, 74-yard drive that led to Garrett Hartley's 24-yard field goal. Drew Brees completed seven of nine passes for 65 yards during his appearance.
But much of the offseason and training camp has centered on upgrading the defense and improving its effectiveness. And after a rocky start Friday, some of the positives that had been on display during training camp practices became evident against the Chiefs.
Kansas City converted both of its third-down attempts on its opening drive, third-and-7 from the Saints' 49 and third-and-6 from the 14. Running back Jamaal Charles finished off the drive with a 1-yard run.
"They set a fast tempo and I think we adjusted accordingly," Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said.
After that, the Chiefs converted one of their final 12 third-down attempts, and accumulated just 135 more yards of offense. In contrast, the Saints generated 427 yards, with McCown leading the way for the majority of the production. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 216 yards and the two touchdowns to Preston Parker, with an interception.
"I thought Preston played exceptionally well with the opportunities he was given," Payton said.
Parker was one of several young Saints looking to make an impression Friday. Akiem Hicks started at left defensive end, first-round pick Kenny Vaccarro totaled a team-high six tackles, two sacks were registered by rookies (Glenn Foster and John Jenkins) and another was credited to a third-year player (Baraka Atkins), and the receivers were tossed into the spotlight, also.
The Saints weren't bashful about throwing deep balls – receivers had catches of 37 (Andy Tanner), 33 (Parker) and 22 (Nick Toon and Kenny Stills) yards. Toon led the charge with 66 yards on four receptions, Tanner finished with 59 yards on three grabs and Parker had 43 on four catches.
Still, Payton said, there's much work to be done.
"I thought there were some things that happened as the game went on that were positive," he said. "I thought there were a ton of little things that we just have to be better at. I just thought it was sloppy."
Specifically, Payton mentioned the fact that the special teams coverage units would have to improve, rapidly. The Saints allowed a 55-yard punt return to Dexter McCluster and a 79-yard kickoff return to Knile Davis. Chiefs receiver Devon Wylie also had a 22-yard punt return and a 31-yard kickoff return, and Qunitin Demps snapped off a 26-yard kickoff return.
None of them led to touchdowns, but each was concerning.
"The coverage teams were average to below average," Payton said. "We gave up some big returns.
"It just shows that you have a lot of work to do and there's a lot of new faces. Right now, we just have a lot of work to do."
The work will resume Sunday, with an afternoon practice. Next Friday, the Saints will play preseason game No. 2, against the Raiders, in the Superdome.
"It gives us something to look at, something to work on," Jordan said. "It's first game, test the waters out. We've definitely got some kinks to work out."
The picture isn't nearly complete. It's only in the initial stages. The strokes promised to become clearer, and bolder, in the coming weeks.