The Saints took a 34-25 loss in their first action of the preseason to the hands of the Vikings. Preseason records are not important in the slightest, though, as the coaches are more focused on evaluating the talent they have in order to improve the roster and make cuts. Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from this game.
Not that he needs to prove anything to the coaching staff and fans, but Drew Brees did not take the field in the first preseason game. Instead, it was Teddy Bridgewater under center in the first half and Tayson Hill in the second half. Bridgewater led the Saints on three scoring drives out of the four drives he was on the field (2 field goals, 1 touchdown). A drive leading to a touchdown late in the first half was part of his impressive showing on the field. Bridgewater ran the two-minute drill very efficiently and capped it off with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Dan Arnold. He finished the first half 14-of-19 with one touchdown, zero interceptions, and two sacks.
Tayson Hill, on the other hand, was not as efficient, but also had a few bright spots. He led the Saints on three scoring drives of the five he was on the field (2 field goals, 1 touchdown). Although he started the second half with a pick-6, he looked better as the half went on. Hill found Lil’Jordan Humphrey on a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter on his lone touchdown drive. Finishing the second half 8-of-14 with one touchdown and one interception that went for a Vikings touchdown capped off his night. He also carried the ball six times for 45 yards. With the first preseason game in the books, it is clear that Bridgewater is the backup for Brees. However, Hill will get plenty of opportunities in the wildcat formation, special teams, and even tight end and receiver.
One of the biggest position battles to watch this preseason will be with the wide receivers. Although the ball was spread around to 12 different players in this game, there were a few guys that stuck out. Rookie Lil’Jordan Humphrey had a very impressive 33-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter. He showed off his elusiveness, along with a nasty stiff-arm en route to the endzone. Humphrey finished the game with two receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Another roster hopeful that stuck out was New Orleans native, Cyril Grayson Jr.
He made a nice 32-yard back-shoulder grab from Bridgewater in the first half, continuing his impressive performance throughout training camp. The wide receiver battle is just beginning to heat up and these two guys definitely made it more interesting with their performances against the Vikings.
It’s also notable that rookie Erik McCoy got the start at center over Nick Easton. Easton started at left guard due to Andrus Peat not suiting up. McCoy has gained more and more first-team reps throughout camp and looks to have the starting center position locked up. McCoy has received great reviews throughout the offseason thus far.
The Saints defense did not look great in their first preseason action. They had an extremely hard time getting off the field on third downs. The Vikings converted five of their seven third-down attempts, giving them a success rate of 71.4%. Although it is just the first preseason game, this is a worrisome stat. Last season, the defense considerably struggled on third downs as well.
Looking towards the defensive line, they struggled to put pressure on the quarterback throughout the game. When the pressure was applied, they could never seem to take the quarterback down. This resulted in missing multiple sack opportunities. In the running game, they left big holes throughout the game, giving up big runs of 64 yards and 42 yards. In total, the defense gave up 213 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Over the entire night, they averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. This is a big issue that they will have to tighten up.
Throughout the night, the cornerbacks also had trouble keeping up with the Vikings receivers. New Orleans secondary gave up big plays throughout the game including three scores through the air. Vikings quarterbacks completed a combined 19-of-27 attempts, passing for 247 yard with three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 135.9. Although the stats are not good, they could be, in part, due to the lack of pass rush the defensive line gave them. This can be chalked up to the defense shaking off the rust in their first game action. However, the Vikings were one step ahead rolling out a new look with an explosive offensive gameplan.
As expected, Wil Lutz and Thomas Morstead shined when they were called upon. Morstead punted twice, averaging 45.5 yards per punt. Lutz got his number called for four field-goal attempts and one extra point attempt. He converted on all five of his kicks, most notably converting a 52-yard field goal. The kicking game will be nothing to worry about this season, as the Saints have two of the best in the business.
Deonte Harris and Cyril Grayson Jr. are both looking to be a part of the wide receiving corps for the Saints this season. However, their real calling might be in the return game. Harris returned three kicks for a total of 90 yards, his longest being a 34-yard return. Grayson Jr. returned two kicks for 61 total yards with a long return of 40 yards. This will be an intriguing battle to watch to see who takes the place of Tommy Lee Lewis, who left via free agency this offseason. Both looked very impressive, showing off their blistering speed and shiftiness.
Overall, it was a different story on both sides of the ball. The offense moved the ball very efficiently on the ground and through the air. There were some issues in the pass-blocking game that will need to be addressed. However, it was a solid effort all around for the offense, with multiple players showing flashes of their potential. There were a lot more issues on the defensive side of the ball. Because of this, the Saints coaching staff will look to improve upon this game once they have the entire starting roster together on the field. Although they didn’t pull out the win, the Saints showed that there is plenty to be excited about after the first preseason game.