Brian Allee-Walsh

There’s one thing Saints fans should be focused on this preseason

Saints fans march through city to boycott Super Bowl

New Orleans Saints fans still aren't over the officiating in the NFC Championship, as the took to the streets to protest the Rams taking on the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
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New Orleans Saints fans still aren't over the officiating in the NFC Championship, as the took to the streets to protest the Rams taking on the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

In the grand scheme, it matters little if the New Orleans Saints’ celebrated Triplets take a meaningful game snap during the preseason.

As long as quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas get their work done in training camp and emerge healthy and motivated heading into Week 1 against the Houston Texans, it’s all good in my book.

I’m not losing sleep over the team’s ongoing search for a reliable complement to Thomas, either. Tight end Jared Cook seems quite capable of filling that void. Plus, Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood and maybe training camp star Emmanuel Butler can help pick up the slack.

I also don’t necessarily need to see kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead work against a hostile rush until opening night on Sept. 9 inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The foot specialists appear to be ready to swing into action on a moment’s notice.

But, I do want to see the Saints defense harass opposing quarterbacks, make key stops and consistently get off the field on third down this preseason, beginning Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Chargers at Health Dignity Sports Park in Carson, California (3 p.m., CBS).

That wasn’t the case last Friday night at the Superdome in the Saints’ first full-price dress rehearsal of the preseason. The Minnesota Vikings and starting quarterback Kirk Cousins moved effortlessly on their opening drive for a quick touchdown against the Saints’ No. 1 defensive unit en route to a 34-25 victory.

The Vikings traveled 76 yards in eight plays, culminating in a 1-yard scoring pass from Cousins to running back Alexander Mattison. Cousins overcame a first-and-20 from the Vikings’ 14 with a 10-yard completion on third-and-9 from their 25, then faced little resistance over the next five plays until they reached the Girod Street end zone.

Not to worry, right? One preseason drive is hardly a legitimate test sample, right?

Still, Cousins had his way with the Saints’ No. 1 defense, completing all four throws for 65 yards and one TD for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It came against nine of 11 projected starters, all except defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins who continues to rehab from a torn Achilles tendon and perennial Pro-Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan who was given the night off by Coach Sean Payton.

I’m of the belief both Jordan and Rankins will be needed for the Saints to achieve their lofty goals.

But their absence against the Vikings doesn’t excuse the lackluster performance of the 11 starters on the field — Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Trey Hendrickson, Malcom Brown, Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, A.J. Klein, Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell.

Each is expected to play major roles for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen this season, along with other situational players, most notably Marcus Edwards, P.J. Williams, Craig Robertson, Chauncey Gardner-Robinson, Saquon Hampton, Vince Biegel and Patrick Robinson.

So, while the sample size might be small the Vikings’ first offensive possession is worth noting, especially since the Saints finished 24th league-wide in third-down defense (41.3 percent conversion rate) and 29th in pass defense (268.9 ypg) in 2018.

And while not great, those defensive numbers were nearly good enough for the Saints to collect their second Lombardi Trophy last season. Imagine what just a modest bump in performance across the board could do for their Super Bowl chances in ‘19.

It might make all the difference in the world.

I know this: a defensive performance like the one by the Saints No. 1 unit against the Vikings won’t get it done. Maybe, the Chargers will get their Sunday best.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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