Carson, Calif. – There was enough to be impressed with in the New Orleans Saints' 36-7 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in their third preseason game, that it'll be hard to narrow down to five points. New Orleans needed a bounce-back game after its loss to Arizona, and got one in a big way at StubHub Center. The Saints didn't get the first-quarter start they wanted on offense or defense, but they found their rhythm in the second quarter and never looked back. Here are a handful of things to take away:
- We eagerly awaited the preseason debut of first-round pick Marcus Davenport, and the rookie defensive end didn't disappoint. Davenport entered the game on the Saints' first defensive drive after Trey Hendrickson, who started at right defensive end, left with an injury (Hendrickson returned to the game). Davenport was noticeable during his abbreviated snap count: a half-sack, a quarterback hit, a tackle for loss and three tackles. Arguably, his most impressive play was an open-field tackle on an end-around; Davenport didn't bite on the fake – he said he remembered the play from the joint practices against the Chargers during the week – and showed impressive agility in tracking and tackling receiver Travis Benjamin. Also, he displayed strength on a couple of bull rushes, and barely missed a sack on a speed rush around the edge. There's a lot of good to build on.
- Speaking of bouncing back, give props to quarterback Taysom Hill. After being credited with four turnovers against Arizona, Hill had the kind of game that makes him a must-keep on the 53-man roster, and a gameday-active player every week. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, ran for 35 yards and a touchdown on six carries, ran for a two-point conversion, had a tackle on a kickoff return and converted a punt fake with a 5-yard run from his up-back position on fourth-and-3. His decision-making was extremely good – his 11-yard touchdown run came on a play where he patiently exhausted all options on the passing routes – and he looked comfortable. I don't want to overlook how smoothly Tom Savage operated at quarterback after entering the game behind Drew Brees – Savage completed 7 of 10 passes for 99 yards and directed a pair of drives that resulted in field goals, in what possibly was his best preseason performance. But Hill was outstanding, following up his worst performance with his best.
- Tre'Quan Smith looks ready. There's no other way to say it. The rookie receiver caught four passes for 39 yards and a touchdown, but it's the way he keeps getting open and keeps making catches and first downs that stands out. Admittedly, he doesn't even know all of the playbook yet. But the parts that he does know, he executes well and he won't be a deer-in-headlights project in a complicated offense.
- It remains to be seen whether Austin Carr has earned a spot on the 53-man. The final preseason game may be a contributing factor for him. But Carr appears to be coming on strong at the right time, and three catches for 38 yards against the Chargers definitely doesn't hurt his case. He has been getting early reps with the starters, and a 29-yard reception from Savage in the second quarter was a good example of the progress that Carr has made. We don't know how many receivers the Saints will keep on the active roster, but right now it looks like it'll be hard to keep Carr off it.
- The slow start by the defense primarily was disappointing because of the lack of success against the run. In the first quarter alone, the Chargers ran for 67 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. True, the defense forced the Chargers to turn over the ball on downs on their first possession, but it must be noted that Los Angeles chose to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4, rather than kick a chip-shot field goal. Coach Sean Payton wasn't pleased with the play of the linebackers early in the game and that's an issue that can, and must, be corrected in the next couple of weeks.