Jacksonville, Fla. – The New Orleans Saints' 24-20 victory over Jacksonville wasn't clean but it was a win, and in many ways, it probably was along the lines of what should have been expected in the preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field.
A few key Saints starters (including quarterback Drew Brees and defensive end Cam Jordan) didn't break the seal on their preseason. Execution wasn't at a level that Coach Sean Payton found satisfying early on. And there were some young, talented players who continued to show the potential that they've shown in training camp.
Here are a few observations from the win:
- Neither Tom Savage nor Taysom Hill grabbed a chokehold on the No. 2 quarterback spot. Savage (10 of 14 for 70 yards and directed two scoring drives in the first half) and Hill (8-for-9 for 72 yards passing, and seven carries for 52 yards and a touchdown rushing) played to their strengths and didn't commit a turnover. Hill's running helps cover a multitude of sins, whether that includes impatience or a lack of protection. And when you add in the factor of designed runs, that just adds another element for a defense to worry about. Savage is more comfortable in the pocket (it helps that he played with the starting offensive line) and he should be, since he has the edge in experience. Neither wowed, but neither really has to. The Saints just need a steady, reliable hand behind Brees and each will get more chances to exhibit his reliability and steadiness.
- Ditto for receiver Brandon Tate and running back Boston Scott at returner. Each had a nice, long return – Tate had a 36-yard kickoff return in the first quarter and Scott had a 35-yarder in the third – to offset the other. There seems to be potential there for both, so that battle bears watching. Others will audition for the job, but those two might be best equipped for it.
- When Payton talked after the game about areas that needed to be cleaned up, third-down defensive efficiency had to be on the list. The Jaguars converted 4 of 7 times on third down in the first half, including all three times on the opening drive of the game – when the starters (minus Jordan and defensive end Alex Okafor) were on the field. Regardless of whether New Orleans unleashed a full schematic display (it didn't), you still want to see the starting defense get off the field without allowing a touchdown, given that many opportunities to do so. Jacksonville converted on third-and-9 and third-and-10 in the first half, and that has to be corrected.
- Don't downplay the fact that the Saints collected six sacks, including five in the second half. New Orleans' reserve defensive front seven had its way with Jacksonville's reserve offensive linemen, and that's all that you can ask – beat the guy(s) in front of you. Linebacker Jayrone Elliott had 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles (one was recovered by defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, and the offense converted it into a touchdown). Defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence, who missed last season with an injury, had two sacks. Defensive lineman Mitch Loewen (six tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit) wreaked havoc; he might as well have been the Jags' fullback, considering the amount of time he spent in the Jacksonville backfield. It was impressive, to say the least.
- Jonathan Williams knows Jonathan Williams. The running back said he was looking forward to getting to the full contact phase of training camp because he better would be able to show what he can do when tackling commenced. Check that box in the affirmative; Williams had 26 yards and a touchdown on four carries, and he was very forceful while doing so. He squared his shoulders and ran with purpose. He looked like what he is, a guy battling for a roster spot. I'm looking forward to seeing more of that in the coming days.
2nd half game action photos from Jacksonville as the New Orleans Saints take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first game of the preseason.