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New Orleans Saints-Baltimore Ravens game preview

Teams play opening preseason game at 6:30 p.m. central Thursday on Fox-8

The New Orleans Saints open the 2015 preseason against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. CST. New Orleans makes the short trip to Baltimore for its preseason debut from The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where the Saints started training camp July 30.

New Orleans will be eager to face another opponent after two weeks of practices, walk-thrus, meetings and weight and conditioning workouts with the complete focus on improvement from a disappointing 2014 campaign. The Ravens finished 10-6 in 2014, returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence, advancing to the AFC divisional round.

This will be only the third preseason meeting between the Saints and Ravens and New Orleans' first trip to Baltimore for an exhibition. In 2014, the Saints and the Ravens played in both the preseason and the regular season at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In the 2014 preseason finale for both clubs on Aug. 28, the Ravens defeated the Saints 22-13. In a "Monday Night Football: matchup on Nov. 24, New Orleans was outscored by Baltimore 20-10 in the second half in a 34-27 loss.

Saints Coach Sean Payton has posted a 19-14 record in the preseason, as he has used the time to evaluate the entire roster and prepare for the regular season, while also providing individual players the opportunity to showcase their talents and compete for roster spots. In 2014, New Orleans posted a 3-1 record in the preseason, with the Baltimore loss its only blemish.

QB Drew Brees once again will lead an offensive unit that finished first in the NFL in net yards per game (411.4 ypg.) for the fifth time since 2006. Brees completed 456-of-659 (69.2 percent) passes for 4,952 yards with 33 touchdowns and a 97.0 passer rating, tying for first in the NFL in passing yardage. RBs Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinsonand C.J. Spiller, who possess distinct and diverse skill sets, will spark the running game. At wide receiver and tight end, solid veterans such as Marques Colstonand Benjamin Watsonwill blend with promising youngsters Brandin Cooks, Josh Hilland Nick Toon, with competi- tion for snaps at both positions with several other veterans and younger players.

The improvement of the defense against both the run and pass has been a focus since the end of the 2014 regular season. DE Cameron Jordan, who has posted 28 sacks in the last three seasons, anchors the New Orleans defensive line opposite Akiem Hicks.At linebacker, returning veterans David Hawthorneand Ramon Humberare joined by newcomer Dannell Ellerbeand draft picks Stephone Anthony and Hau'Oli Kikaha. At cornerback, Keenan Lewis, who has led the club in interceptions each of the past two seasons, is joined by free agent acquisition Brandon Browner, who has played for the last two Super Bowl Champions. Rafael Bush, Jairus Byrdand Kenny Vaccarocombine to form a solid trio at safety although Byrd isn't expected to see any playing time against the Ravens.

In addition to punter Thomas Morstead, special teams features two compelling preseason competitions. Zach Hock-erand Dustin Hopkinswill compete for kicking duties, while Cooks, Spiller, RB/RS Marcus Murphyand WR Jalen Saunderswill all see extensive work on kickoff and punt returns as Payton seeks the best combination for the team's return units.

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