New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Preseason Week 2 game against the Green Bay Packers.
1. Well isn't that special: As everyone who watches the game of football closely knows, the play of the special teams unit as a whole can be the difference between winning and losing. On Friday night in Green Bay, New Orleans Saints fans were treated to a pretty solid night and perhaps put their minds at ease that at least the kicking portion of the unit will be well taken care of. As an aside, the coverage units were solid, and despite a couple of penalties (which Coach Dennis Allen lamented postgame) the return game was good as well. Receiver Kirk Merritt (who graded out well during special teams work this week in Green Bay), got his first chance at kickoff return after Green Bay went up 3-0, and made the most of it, scampering for a 59-yard return setting up the Saints in great field position.At the end of the first quarter (and after a strategic timeout by Allen to keep wind advantage with two seconds on the clock) kicker Wil Lutz drilled a career-long 59-yard field goal, that easily would have been good from 65 yards. Lutz has missed one field goal throughout training camp, and even that length of kick kept that record intact. Perhaps the star of the night was punter Blake Gillikin, who consistently boomed punt after punt pinning Green Bay deep int heir own territory. The highlight was a career-long 81 yard moonshot that actually rolled into the end zone for a touchback. In all, Gillikin punted five times for a ridiculous 59.4 average with a net of 50.8. We've said many times on Observations that Gillikin is a weapon for the Saints, and Friday night did nothing to diminish that narrative.
2. Night of firsts: It was pretty much the consensus during the week in Green Bay that Saints rookie receiver Chris Olave made strides forward during the joint practices, especially during the second day when he made several catches for big yardage. Well on Friday night in Lambeau Field, Olave would make his first of what Saints fans hope is many touchdown catches wearing the Black and Gold. With 19 seconds left in the first half and the Saints trailing the Packers 13-10, Quarterback Ian Book rolled right and threw a perfect ball to Olave just inside the front right pylon and snuck inside the pylon for a 20-yard touchdown reception. Lost a little bit in the shuffle was that was also Book's first touchdown pass in his brief Saints tenure. Book played the entire ballgame and would finish 16 for 28 for 113 yards, with one touchdown, and one interception. He also was the team's leading rusher, with seven attempts for 49 yards, including a 27-yarder on the second play of the final drive which ultimately ended in the Saints turning it over on downs. For the second straight game, though, Book fumbled a snap from center, leading to a 45-yard Green Bay field goal.
3. Self-inflicted wounds: Allen was not very happy after the game when he addressed the media. The final score being one thing, but for the second straight preseason game, turnovers and more importantly, penalties were major factors. Along with the fumbled snap, Book threw his second preseason interception, which in fairness to him wasn't all his fault. Hill slipped on the lush SISGrass making a cut to the left sideline, paving the way for safety Micah Abernathy, who made an unbelievable catch on the sideline getting one knee in bounds. The penalties though were the major factor on Friday night and the most disappointing aspect of the contest. Nine penalties for 78 yards, including a couple as we would call it, killer drive-extenders.. The biggest one occurred early in the second quarter after the Saints had momentum after Lutz's 59-yard field had tied the score at 3. The Saints defense had sacked quarterback Jordan Love, pressured him into a small run and were defending a third-and-19 at the Green Bay 11-yard line. Love threw a deep right sideline pass that had no chance of being completed to receiver Romeo Doubs. It appeared the Saints had held and were going to get decent field position after the punt. However, Saints defensive tackle Malcolm Roach was flagged for roughing the passer, which kept the drive alive. It would ultimately prove very costly, as Love would take the Packers on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass, making the score 10-3 Green Bay. Roach drew the ire on the sideline of co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen as Roach would come off the field. As the regular season draws closer, these are the types of situations that need to be "cleaned up", according to Allen. The good news is the Saints have one more preseason game and three weeks remaining till the beginning of the regular season in Atlanta.