Costa Mesa, Calif. – The goal is simple: Improvement, from the first preseason game to the second.
As much as the actual winning of the game, the New Orleans Saints will be seeking improvement from their 34-25 loss to Minnesota in their preseason opener. And if there's enough of a jump from that game to Sunday's game against the Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park, it'll likely show positively on the scoreboard.
Completely unscientific, here are a few possible areas to watch in this one:
FIRST QUARTER: It's hard to say without concrete confirmation, but if Drew Brees doesn't start at quarterback – and he received plenty of reps during the joint practices, and said that work can be more valuable than a preseason game – I think Taysom Hill will, giving him his at-bat with the No. 1 offense. Hill wasn't bad with the subs against Minnesota (8 of 14 passing, for 80 yards and a touchdown, with an interception), but he should have more time to throw in this one (he ran six times for a team-high 45 yards, much of it unscripted runs). Expect an early appearance – perhaps even, a start – by rookie receiver Emmanuel Butler, and running back Alvin Kamara also may have the day off. That means more work for Latavius Murray. The starters will go a bit longer in this one than in the opener. The defense, especially the starters, will want to limit the chunk plays (six plays of at least 20 yards were allowed against the Vikings). All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan might make his preseason debut, and that should help the pass rush.
SECOND QUARTER: If Hill starts, he'll likely get the entire first half. The line may transition (left tackle Terron Armstead doesn't need much work, if any, and right guard Larry Warford isn't far behind him in that category). But rookie center Erik McCoy will benefit from a little more work. Defensively, we may see some transition based on the group's effectiveness in the first two or three series. A couple of three-and-outs would be nice defensively, to get Jordan, linebackers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein, and the starting secondary off the field. Rookie safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson probably already will have gotten some snaps in the first quarter, but the workload could increase here as Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell ease to the sideline.
THIRD QUARTER: Teddy Bridgewater may open the second half at quarterback, and center Cameron Tom will probably anchor the offensive line. This line will have to protect better than it did in the preseason opener. With Butler playing a decent amount of snaps at receiver, Simmie Cobbs could be in the plan for this quarter. Dwayne Washington likely will have gotten work at running back in the first half, but he could receive snaps here, too, before giving way to Devine Ozigbo, Kerwynn Williams or Jacquizz Rodgers. Nothing exotic, you just want to see everyone carrying out his assignment. Defensively, P.J. Williams and Patrick Robinson are the corners. They're first in line behind Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple, and they probably will have played in the first half (at nickel or at corner). Rookie Kaden Elliss has had an increased workload in practice due to the absence of Alex Anzalone, and after some reps in the first half, he'll probably be on the field in this quarter, too, along with Vince Biegel. The defensive line rotation might have Taylor Stallworth at tackle and Trey Hendrickson at end.
FOURTH QUARTER: Bridgewater finishes at quarterback. Here's a chance for Cyril Grayson Jr. and Lil'Jordan Humphrey to make a play or two at receiver. Grayson made a nice back-shoulder catch against the Vikings, and Humphrey scored a touchdown, so they should be ready. Hopefully, Deonte Harris will get a few snaps, catch a pass in space and make a defender look like he's standing still. Kayvon Webster at cornerback made a nice play against Minnesota (yeah, he was penalized for interference, but it was close enough to challenge) and cornerback Justin Hardee continues to try to show he can contribute defensively, if needed. Sylvester Williams and Ziggy Hood are veterans at defensive tackle and the hope is that they'll wreak a little havoc in the Charger backfield during this quarter.