The dress rehearsal for the New Orleans Saints' revamped secondary, in the third preseason game and against Pittsburgh's potent offense, was a lot more casual than the team had hoped it would be in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The formal look, still a work in progress, is one that players hope will be on view during the regular season, beginning with the opener against Oakland on Sept. 11 in the Superdome.
The first half of the 27-14 loss to Pittsburgh, in which the Steelers scored all three of their touchdowns, was a welcome-to-the-NFL that several members of the young secondary prepared for, but still appeared overwhelming at times.
In the first 30 minutes, Pittsburgh quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger (12 for 17 for 148 yards and two touchdowns) and Landry Jones (12 for 15 for 116 yards and another score) combined to complete 75 percent of their passes for a passer rating of 130.2.
Neither was sacked or routinely hurried, another factor that contributed to the secondary being in precarious position.
But the youngsters – including second-year cornerback P.J. Williams, who missed last season with an injury and is slated to be a first-time starter, and rookie free agent cornerback De'Vante Harris – also admittedly made their share of mistakes against the Steelers, who featured receiver Antonio Brown, who tied for the league lead in receptions (136) and was second in receiving yards (1,834) last season.
Brown caught four passes for 87 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, in the preseason game. Harris appeared to be in solid coverage on the touchdown pass, but couldn't track the ball in a twisting attempt to break up the throw.
"They've got a great group of receivers," Harris said. "It's not just Antonio Brown. But Antonio Brown – y'all saw him. Great receiver."
But he said there were lessons learned from the encounter with the Steelers.
The secondary, and pass rush, fared much better in the first two preseason games, particularly against Houston in the second game. The Texans totaled 253 passing yards, completing 23 of 35 passes, with one touchdown and an interception. And the Saints stacked four sacks against Houston's three quarterbacks.
"Just be yourself, no matter the circumstance," Harris said. "It doesn't matter who you're going against, it doesn't matter the magnitude of the receivers, it doesn't matter the magnitude of the game. Just be comfortable and be yourself, and trust your technique.
"We did, as a collective group (make several fundamental mistakes). There were some negative spots that we could have prevented or gotten better on. But there were also some good things that we did, so we just take it in optimism and we're just grinding and getting ready for Baltimore (in the preseason finale Thursday night) and Oakland."
Williams also said he took to heart the mistakes made, and corrections needed, from playing against the Steelers.
"A lot of little things," Williams said. "We watched the film, I did a lot of technical things that weren't that good. Just fixing those little things and playing tighter to your man, and stuff like that. It'll make it a lot different.
"It's definitely a learning curve. I learned a lot from that game and I'm looking to get better from it. Getting these looks from different teams and going against different receivers and quarterbacks is always great for your team. We're getting better and I think we're going to do pretty good this year.
"We're all a pretty confident group. We know if they make a play on us, we can also bounce back and also make a play. We just keep that mind-set and we're looking to get better."
Harris backed his teammate on that belief.
"We're also in the NFL, too," he said. "How we're looking at it is, yes, those guys are good, and yes, those guys get paid too. But we just have to raise our level.
"We're here to compete, we're not here to bow down to other people. We're here to compete, that's what we're here to do, that's what the New Orleans Saints are here to do."