ReFo: Saints @ Rams, Preseason Week 1
With neither Sam Bradford nor Drew Brees suiting up for even the token one or two series, this might have been a dull matchup on paper, but instead it turned out to be quite an exciting and competitive game, featuring several touchdown passes and interceptions, 24 penalties, and a missed extra-point, among other interesting storylines.
Let’s examine some of the standout performances in a game where the backups and rookies took center stage.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
All eyes were on Brandin Cooks as the first-round pick made his NFL debut in the midst of what’s been, by all accounts, an impressive first training camp. And he didn’t disappoint, as late in the third quarter (3:50) he turned a seven-yard pass into an electrifying 25-yard touchdown. Cooks made one cut and turned on the jets, making corner E.J. Gaines (who otherwise had an impressive debut himself with a +1.6 overall grade) look silly in the process. Expectations should be tempered, however, as that play and much of the production – five receptions for 55 yards – came after the Rams inserted their backups.
Picking Up Where He Left Off
After a monster preseason a year ago, injuries derailed what could have been a productive season for Tyrunn Walker. The Saints’ end is off to another blistering start this year, notching a +3.2 grade in 32 snaps. While he logged a sack rushing the passer, his best work came in the run game. His effort was particularly strong in the third quarter; at 9:00, he knifed through an attempted reach block to drop the ball-carrier 3 yards deep in the backfield. And then on consecutive third- and fourth-down plays, he denied the Rams first down yardage, beating the reaches of Sean Hooey to make the tackle. If this level of play continues – providing he stays healthy – Walker will surely see more than the 119 snaps he logged last season.
Depth at Tight End
While one tight end dominated headlines in New Orleans this offseason with his contract dispute, it was another tight end, second-year Josh Hill, who stood out in this game. The highlight came at 11:55 of the second quarter, when he took nearly took an 8-yard pass from midfield to the end zone, running through several tackles and showing off decent speed and elusiveness on the 50-yard gain. He added another first-down grab later in the game while also making a tackle during kick coverage.
As for Jimmy Graham, in his first action since signing his new deal, the TE added a first-down reception of his own, though his effort in run blocking was rather pathetic (though it’s never been his strength); see 12:35 of the first quarter. He expectedly finished the night with a meager 17 snaps.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Another rookie made his debut amid much fanfare this offseason (though for slightly different reasons). Michael Sam notched a hit and hurry in 20 snaps rushing the passer (with a third pressure nullified by penalty), though both “live” pressures were effectively unblocked, such as at 5:01 of the second quarter. He also made a couple of positive plays in the run game for a grade of +0.8 in that department.
Another Rookie DL
Though, unfortunately for Sam, his bid to make the team is going to be a contested one, at least based on this game. Fellow lineman Ethan Westbrooks, an undrafted free agent, was extremely impressive in his 34 snaps, the majority of them coming on the opposite side of Sam at DRE. Like Sam, Westbrooks had success in run defense, while logging two disruptions rushing the passer with a third nullified by penalty, though unlike his teammate, all three of Westbrook’s pressures came blocked and in more impressive fashion. Perhaps his best play was the one at 3:20 of the second quarter, when he destroyed guard Senio Kelemete with a quick inside move at the snap, though the pass was out before he could impact the quarterback.
Bad First Impressions
Two other Rams did not help their case for a roster spot in TE Justice Cunningham and QB Garrett Gilbert. Last year’s Mr. Irrelevant, Cunningham (-4.4) did little to make himself relevant in his 35 snaps, with an all-around poor performance. This included a false start penalty, a dropped pass (though this was nullified by penalty), several losses in run blocking, and a sack allowed in pass protection (4Q, 4:11).
As evidenced by his 54% completion percentage and 4.8 YPA, Gilbert (-4.0) was off target all game, with his lowlights including a coverage misread and dropped interception (2Q, 1:52), as well as three consecutive misfires in the two-minute drill to close out the first half (0:43 – 0:37).
– Both of St. Louis’ first round picks played more than 30 snaps, with Greg Robinson (-0.4) splitting time between tackle and guard on offense, while DT Aaron Donald (-0.1) had a few notable plays on the interior, though was largely held in check.
– The three Saint backup quarterbacks combined to complete just one pass over 10 yards in the air in 36 total aimed pass attempts.
– Ray-Ray Armstrong played the fourth-most snaps of any Ram defender with 40, but had the unit’s lowest grade thanks in large part to several missed tackles.
PFF Game Ball
Let’s recognize Mark Ingram, who reeled off several long runs on his way to 83 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries.
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