Following a preseason consisting of 34 practices, three preseason games and countless hours of preparation in both the meeting room and weight room, the New Orleans Saints will close out their preseason Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when they host the Baltimore Ravens. This will be the final tune-up for New Orleans before their regular season opener at the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 7.
The Ravens and the Saints will face-off for only the second time in the preseason. On Aug. 26, 2005, the clubs played the final contest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome prior to Hurricane Katrina, The Saints will also host the Ravens in the regular season on Monday Night Football on November 24.
Thursday night the Ravens will enter the Mercedes-Benz Superdome looking to continue to wash the bad taste out of their mouths from last season's 8-8 campaign, the first season they missed the playoffs since 2007. Offensively, Baltimore is led by QB Joe Flacco and his offensive weaponry in TE Dennis Pitta and WRs Jacoby Jones, Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will seek to enhance the groups production after they ranked 29th in the NFL in net yards per game in 2013. Defensively, the traditionally strong and aggressive Ravens defense is led by LB Terrell Suggs, who has posted 94.5 sacks in 11 seasons and DT Haloti Ngata, who mans the middle and takes on multiple blockers.
New Orleans has a final opportunity to build continuity and momentum heading into the opener. The hard-nosed Ravens will serve as a perfect tune-up on both sides of the ball. This is also the final opportunity for players to make a positive impression before the mandatory roster cutdown to 53 on Saturday. While not personally fighting for a roster spot, ILB and defensive team captain Curtis Lofton recalled the atmosphere and reality of cuts when a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, as well as the importance of this fourth preseason game to the chances of a number of players.
"I think every time you step out on that game field, it's your resume – not only for this team but the other 31 teams as well," said Lofton. "Everyone knows what's on the line. There is increased focus and intensity and that's what it needs to be because this is a tough team to make. All our guys are locked in and ready to make a strong impression for the last time in the preseason, while also getting a final opportunity get reps in a live situation prior to starting up."
Several returning players, as well as draft picks and veteran and rookie free agent acquisitions will be looking to make a positive impression tonight in what for many, is their last chance to shine in front of the Saints coaches and personnel staff. While performing on offense and defense is important, one of the easiest ways to work off the bubble is on special teams coverage and return units.
A great example of the importance of special teams performance is in two players on the Saints roster. OLB Junior Galette was an undrafted free agent out of Stillman in 2010, trying to make a loaded roster coming off of a Super Bowl Championship. A blocked punt in the preseason finale, provided a boost to his chances and gave him the opportunity to contribute in several areas while developing his pass-rushing skills to the point where he posted 12 sacks in 2013. In 2007, RB Pierre Thomas finished with 81 rushing yards and one touchdown and 47 receiving yards in a preseason finale vs. Miami, contributing him to being included in the final 53 as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois. After first contributing on special teams, Thomas is now only the second Saints running back with over 3,500 rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards.