The culmination of the New Orleans Saints' preseason opener was along the lines of what can be expected of a first preseason game: Some good, some bad, some sharp, some sloppy, some head-turners and some head-scratchers.
And a great deal of film to study and improve off for the Saints, who dropped a 17-13 decision to the Texans on Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
New Orleans had to have been pleased with what it saw from its starting units on offense and defense; a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive directed by quarterback Andy Dalton (five for five for 51 yards and a 9-yard score) and two three-and-outs generated by the defense.
"I was pleased with the way the first units went in there and played," Coach Dennis Allen said. "We'll get back and take a look at the tape and have a better evaluation, but there were some good things I saw tonight."
It couldn't have been a cleaner open and Dalton, especially, was sharp with completions to four receivers. His touchdown pass to running back Dwayne Washington was a perfectly-executed screen – Washington patiently allowed left guard Andrus Peat and center Erik McCoy to get in position to throw the blocks and cleared his path to the end zone.
And defensively, the Saints allowed 33 yards and no first downs in the first quarter as it choked off the Texans' offense. From there, though, New Orleans experienced more uneven play than it hoped, but perhaps along the lines of what could be expected when teams haven't had tons of live tackling and physical reps throughout training camp.
Three turnovers, including an interception and lost fumble from quarterback Ian Book, helped deliver 10 points to Houston. Rookie running back Abram Smith lost a fumble inside the red zone, which likely kept points off the board. A dropped touchdown pass by Tre'Quan Smith turned a possible seven points into three, and rookie left tackle Trevor Penning and second-year right tackle Landon Young had some protection hiccups that led to a Book taking a couple of sacks that he'll feel today.
And a couple of defensive lapses helped set up both Houston touchdowns, the final one coming inside the last minute where a pair of busted coverages led to open receivers and the deciding score.
But Book (15 of 22 for 121 yards), who played every offensive series after Dalton started and played the opening drive, steadied himself after the two turnovers and showed flashes even after a couple of rattling sacks. The running game picture may not have cleared much behind Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, because each back who played – Washington (nine carries for 19 yards, three catches for 18 and a touchdown), Tony Jones (seven carries for 27 yards), Devine Ozigbo (eight carries for 26) and Smith (seven for 30) – had a moment or two, though Smith's lost fumble stained his.
And the defense forced three turnovers – all interceptions – as it buckled down until its final drive. Linebacker Chase Hansen, safety Justin Evans and cornerback Brian Allen provided the interceptions.
Still, New Orleans also received the costly reminder that every mistake can be a game-changer – secondary lapses that led to Houston's game-winning touchdown wiped away a lead that could have stood and given New Orleans a win.
Overall for the Saints, who, like the Texans, rested a significant number of starters and spot-played the ones that were available, it was an opportunity to take a deep look at some of the players that Allen said the team needed to see in an extended scenario under game conditions.
It was a long look at Book, a chance to see how Penning and Young handled themselves against rushers in situations with higher stakes than practice, an opportunity to see which running back could step up and separate from others and a peek at some of the defenders hoping to make a mark.
The team now will turn its attention to next week and the joint practices it'll have against the Packers before Friday's preseason game in Green Bay.
New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Preseason Week 1 game against the Houston Texans.