NEW ORLEANS - This was the dress rehearsal, the preseason game that most resembles a regular season contest. It certainly did for the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans.
In fact, it resembled the regular season battle the two teams staged in 2011 when the Saints rallied past the Texans, 40-33, on September 25 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In that game, Drew Brees completed 31-of-44 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns, overcoming a pair of interceptions. Matt Schaub was 22-of-39 for 373 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
This time around, both quarterbacks had their way with the opposing defenses once again. Schaub finished the first half 15-of-18 for 194 yards and a score while Brees was 17-of-25 for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Here are my takes on the 34-27 victory by New Orleans over Houston.
**Remember this trio--Scott Shanle, Will Herring and Jonathan Casillas--not exactly the threesome Saints fans envisioned starting at linebacker. Of the three, Shanle, otherwise known as Lazarus, figures to hold a starting position when the season starts. If either of the others starts, it is because Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are not ready to go against the Washington Redskins.
**The Texans came out throwing and utilizing influence, misdirection pass plays, using the Saints defensive aggressiveness against them. Play-action worked very well.
**Houston was precision-like on an opening drive eight play, 80-yard drive, taking 3:57 off the clock. The drive was kept alive when Scott Shanle interfered with Andre Johnson on a third-down incompletion. Shane had good position but wrapped his back arm around Johnson before the ball arrived from Matt Schaub, who went 4-of-5 for 60 yards on the drive. Houston scored on its opening drive for the third consecutive game. It is a good offense.
**Can you afford to keep Chris Ivory with his propensity to fumble? The guy runs violently, extremely hard, and has proven to be effective in league play. That said, he simply lacks ball security. You have three solid backs and a promising rookie in Travaris Cadet, a better receiver than Ivory but Ivory is a better runner than Cadet.
**On Matt Schaub's 10 yard touchdown pass to Keshawn Martin, a Saints defender was blocked and Jonathan Casillas, who was positioned inside, jumped to the outside with Martin running to the post wide open. It was easy picking for Schaub, as easy as you will see on the NFL level.
**How good was Schaub in the first quarter? He went 11-of-12 for 135 yards and a touchdown, completing passes to eight different receivers while racking up a quarterback rating of 141.3.
**Houston outgained New Orleans 167-85 in the opening quarter and dominated possession fort 10:57.
**Courtney Roby continues to shine in the preseason. He is perhaps the best gunner on special teams, he remains the best kickoff return option and has done a nice job at wide receiver.
**Drew Brees was in vintage form on the first Saints touchdown drive, making perfect throws (and reads) to Lance Moore (twice), to Devery Henderson and to Marques Colston. The back shoulder scoring toss to Moore was a thing of beautiful and unstoppable. Brees was 4-of-4 for 57 yards on the drive. Without Robert Meachem, it is imperative for Moore to remain healthy this season.
**Isa Abdul-Quddus earned high marks for stripping LSU's Trindon Holliday on a kickoff with Junior Galette getting a gift touchdown. Holliday later redeemed himself with a 64-yard kickoff return.
**Malcolm Jenkins missed an open field tackle on Justin Forsett. He must tackle in space. He later forced a fumble by Keshawn Martin.
** Cameron Jordan helped stop a Houston drive, beating Rashad Butler on an inside move for a sack. Corey White then created a turnover, stripping Keshawn Martin with Sedrick Ellis recovering at the New Orleans 26-yard line at the conclusion of the first quarter. White is being counted on to provide depth at cornerback.
**Jordan later tackled Arian Foster for a two-yard loss. Jordan has the look of a much improved player, a younger version of Will Smith.
**Can you trust Joe Morgan on your roster? He has blazing speed but drops passes, has made questionable decisions fielding punts and fumbled the ball away on a pass reception to set up a Houston touchdown. Morgan later redeemed himself, to a degree, with the game-winning touchdown reception from Chase Daniel.
**Once again, the replacement officials were poor, missing a blatant pass interference call on Bradie James against Jimmy Graham in the end zone. It was too obvious, and the fans provided a resounding boo. James grabbed Graham, hit him early and whatever else you can imagine. No call. Ridiculous.
**You surprised Houston elected to kick a field goal (33 yards) with just over two minutes remaining in the first half, rather than going for it on fourth-and-one from the New Orleans 15-yard line? It is preseason, after all. Did you really need to work on your field goal game? Drew Brees took total advantage, driving the Saints 77 yards in seven plays, taking 1:54 to get the equalizer at the half.
**As always, Brees showed great vision throughout, stepped up in the pocket on the touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham after scrambling for a first down.
**It was a shootout in the first half, with the Texans running up 233 yards of offense to 224 for the Saints. Houston committed three turnovers while New Orleans gave it away twice. The Texans tied a preseason franchise record with their 24 first half points.
**How about the Saints having 12 men on the field for the first offensive play of the second half? They had the entire half to plot that play. Oh, well!
**Chase Daniel looked good on the opening drive of the second half, driving the Saints 71 yards in 17 plays for a field goal. He later spared everyone overtime, driving the team 75 yards in 13 plays, hitting Morgan for the game-winning touchdown. Daniel has distinguished himself well as a dependable backup quarterback.
**Cord Parks and Kadarron Anderson got sacks of T.J. Yates on second half blitzes. Anderson later broke up a pass. Turk McBride and Tyrunn Walker had sacks of Yates as well.
**Barrett Ruud made his debut and was in on a pair of tackles early in the second half.
**Akiem Hicks batted down a T.J. Yates pass in the fourth quarter and followed up with a sack. He is impressive, big, physical and quick for his size.
**Garrett Hartley was short on a 53-yard field goal attempt, not a particularly good sign but it is still his job.
**The Saints appeared to avoid any injuries during the win, at least from our vantage point upstairs.
Fortunately, the preseason comes to an end at Nashville against the Titans next Thursday.
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