ReFo: NO @ HOU, Preseason Wk 3
The third preseason game is the dress rehearsal for the upcoming season. While the first two games were just about glimpsing the starters and the final one likely won’t feature any first team players at all, the third game is the one that we see the most out of the big name players, and if any preseason game means much, this is the one.
Though Drew Brees sat down after just 11 snaps, most of the remaining New Orleans starters lasted much longer and the Houston starters were kept in the game far deeper. But did it make much of a difference to the scoreboard? With the Saints still coming out on top, let’s take a look at who stood out for better or worse.
New Orleans — Three Performances of Note
The Real David Hawthorne?
PFF was a big fan of linebacker David Hawthorne back when he burst onto the scene in Seattle. Injuries derailed his career and we’ve never really seen that same player in New Orleans… until this game. It may only be preseason, but this was the real David Hawthorne, a wrecking ball against the run and a player that could read, react and penetrate quickly to disrupt plays. He finished with a +3.3 grade.
In the past, the Saints’ defensive scheme has tended to be a place where linebackers go to die, but maybe they can turn things around this year and actually play to the strengths of some very talented players within that unit. If they can get Hawthorne firing on all cylinders, then that’s a good step in the right direction.
Beating Up On Lewis
Keenan Lewis was one of the big marquee additions to the Saints this offseason, but this was a game he will want to forget in a hurry. He was thrown at eight times, and allowed six catches for 111 yards. The ugliest of them came on a deep shot to Andre Johnson, where he got turned around completely on a double move and left for dead down the sideline. He ended the day with a -3.9 grade in coverage and was victimized chiefly by Johnson, still one of the league’s best receivers.
With the kind of money the Saints gave Lewis, they need him to at least be able to stand up against receivers like Johnson, and they can’t afford for him to become a victim in the passing game.
Kenny Stills Makes The Most of Chances
It’s not often a player who is only thrown at twice can earn himself a +2.6 grade for the day, but that’s exactly what Kenny Stills managed to do for himself. He helped his grade by making a positive contribution as a blocker, but his two catches were extremely impressive. He beat Kareem Jackson deep down the left sideline for a 40-yard catch despite excellent coverage from the Houston corner and a vaguely underthrown pass, and then he got on the score sheet with a corner-post route that left Johnathan Joseph turned around and lost in coverage. New Orleans has managed to churn out positively contributing receivers in recent years, and they might have found another in Stills.
Houston — Three Performances of Note
The Texans’ O-line has been in a relative state of flux for the past couple of seasons since they decided to pack off their entire right side in one off-season. Left tackle Duane Brown (-0.3) had an uncharacteristically iffy performance in this game, and left guard Ben Jones (-0.2) and center Chris Myers (-1.0) were also distinctly average, but the right side fared much better for once. Right guard Brandon Brooks (+1.4) and right tackle Derek Newton (+1.2) both graded positively, and though Newton gave up a sack and hurry — from 28 snaps in pass protection that isn’t a terrible return — it was weighed against some positive run blocking work.
This Houston team is at its best with a strong O-line to act as the foundation of everything they want to do. While I assume the left side will improve back to expected levels, if the right side can raise its level to meet them, the entire team becomes much more formidable.
I have to admit, I’ve liked Randy Bullock from the get-go simply because of his measurables. He’s a kicker that is 5’9 and 208lbs. That is a vaguely ridiculous shape for a kicker, but that brick-like build obviously serves him well judging by this outing in which he both drilled field goals and hoofed kickoffs out of the end zone. He was 3-for-3 on scoring attempts, including from 55 yards and another from over 40.
He nailed a touchback on four of his five kickoffs and averaged 8.6 yards into the end zone. Bullock certainly seems to have a leg, and so far it looks pretty accurate.
Andre Johnson is Still Awesome
Just in case we’ve all forgotten. …with all the love for Megatron it’s easy to forget just how good Andre Johnson still is. In this game he was thrown at eight times and caught seven of them, with the eighth just glancing off his hands on a throw slightly behind him. Those seven catches went for 131 yards in his 41 snaps. That’s full-game efficiency in a far smaller portion of game time, and he did it primarily to big-name signing Keenan Lewis. Working against Lewis alone, Johnson collected a 100-yard game with 103 on five receptions.
The Texans have been looking for somebody to play on the other side of Johnson for years, and they’ll hope one of their young receivers can step up and fill that role this year, but it’s worth remembering that Johnson can still get a lot done all by himself.
– Luke McCown completed 10 of his 12 attempts for 118 yards and two TDs. The other two passes were thrown away.
– Matt Schaub had seven incompletions, but six of those can be attributed to drops (2), spikes (1), batted balls (1) throwaways (1) or plays where he was hit as he was throwing (1).
– Rookie S Kenny Vaccaro closes on deep square-in routes faster than any safety I can think of, and from what I’ve seen he’s getting closer to them. I wonder if a team will try and hit him with an in-and-up pattern early in the season.
PFF Game Ball
I’m going to give the game ball to Kenny Stills, for a remarkable two catches in just 23 snaps of action
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam