Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints must show marked improvement in 3rd preseason game

Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (90) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the first half of the preseason football game in Houston, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (90) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in the first half of the preseason football game in Houston, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. AP

If you think the New Orleans Saints’ No. 1 offensive line looked overwhelmed against the Houston Texans on Saturday night at NRG Stadium, it could have been worse.

Folks, Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt didn’t play, you know the human destroyer who embarrasses offensive linemen, chews up quarterbacks and spits them out. He’s still recovering from back surgery.

Say Watt?

Meanwhile, the Saints’ front five O-linemen are collectively nursing a bruised ego after a disturbingly poor outing against the Watt-less Texans, hoping to redeem themselves Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Quarterback Drew Brees and a usually prolific Saints offensive unit under the direction of maestro Sean Payton are banking that starting left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Tim Lelito, center Max Unger, right guard Andrus Peat and right tackle Zach Strief will get their act together against a quality opponent picked by some pundits to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI.

Brees’ health may depend on the success of his bodyguards.

Important game

Of the four preseason scrums, the third one comes the closest to resembling an actual NFL game. Many starters and significant others typically play into the third quarter before turning the game over to replacements.

I suspect Friday night will follow script.

Through the first two games, one word aptly describes Brees and the No. 1 Saints offense — pedestrian.

No points in four possessions (13 snaps, one INT, one fumble, one sack).

Brees’ passer rating barely has a pulse (48.6). The ground game has been non existent (see bad O-line). If you remove five scrambles for 40 yards by reserve quarterbacks Luke McCown and Garrett Grayson, the Saints have generated 120 rushing yards on 51 carries, or 2.35 yards per tote.

That won’t win many games.

Neither will the Saints turnover margin. They are minus-5 in the takeaway/giveaway differential (2 takeaways, 7 giveaways), tied for dead last in the NFL with the New York Giants.

Look, I’m not pushing the panic button. Last time I looked this is the preseason and the Saints are 0-0 in the record that matters most.

But you still want to see weekly improvement in all three phases. You especially want to see the Black and Gold put in a solid outing in Game 3 of the preseason because few, if any, starters play in Game 4.

Here’s what I want to see Friday night:

  • Brees and the No. 1 offense move the chains, protect the ball and get in the end zone more than once.
  • The No. 1 offensive line open holes for the running game and keep Brees clean in the pocket.
  • The defense put pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s seeing his first action of the preseason, and come up with several takeaways.
  • Special teams win the game of field position and convert field goal/extra point attempts.

That doesn’t seem too much to ask of a franchise that fancies itself as a “player’’ in the NFC.

In the preseason, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s more about how you play the game.

So far, the Saints aren’t faring too well.

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

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