Brian Allee-Walsh

Emoji face the facts: Saints aren’t ready for regular season

By Brian Allee-Walsh

Special to Sun Herald

New Orleans Saints running back Marcus Murphy (23) runs by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Jordan Dangerfield (37) Friday in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints running back Marcus Murphy (23) runs by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Jordan Dangerfield (37) Friday in New Orleans. Associated Press

Assuming the bulk of the starters have played their last meaningful snaps of the preseason, it's time to grade the New Orleans Saints.

The emojis, please.

Quarterback: In 43 snaps, Drew Brees completed 15 of 21 passes (71.4 percent) for 144 yards, with one touchdown and one INT for a pedestrian 86.2 passer rating. With him in the game, the No. 1 offense scored one touchdown in seven possessions, that coming on a juggling catch, in traffic, by sure-handed wide receiver Willie Snead lying on his back.

Grade: A frowning, utterly disappointed face.

Running Game: Until Friday night's 27-14 loss against Pittsburgh at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the principal RBs Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller, Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet were nothing special. They showed some semblance of life against the Steelers, displaying burst, finding a crease and occasionally moving the chains. If I keep a fullback, I keep John Kuhn over Austin Johnson.

Grade: A relieved face.

Offensive Line: Simply, the No. 1 group is not very good right now. Veteran guard Jahri Evans may have been in decline but he's better than any guard currently on the roster, that includes Tim Lelito, Senio Kelemete and Andrus Peat. Now, it appears left tackle Terron Armstead has some lingering health issues. It speaks volumes when coach Sean Payton says he's concerned and troubled by his team's inability to protect the quarterback, most notably their franchise quarterback.

Grade: One face screaming in fear.

Receiving Corps: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas give Brees a solid one, two, three punch. Not great, but solid. Still looking for a consistent downfield threat. I'm not sold on tight end Coby Fleener, not yet anyway. Where are the yards after catch? Plus, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui limped off the field last night. Brandon Coleman may be tall but he doesn't necessarlly play big.

Grade: One angst face.

Pass Rush: It has been non existent to date, which shouldn't be surprising since team officials didn't really address this area in free agency or the draft. Moving second-year LB Hau'oli Kikaha to rush end before his season-ending knee injury didn't necessarily address the issue. Top pick Sheldon Rankins is an interior lineman, plus he's going to be sidelined for the first four to five games with a broken left leg. End Cameron Jordan can't do it by himself, which means DC Dennis Allen is going to have scheme ways to bring extra pressure, much like ousted DC Rob Ryan tried to do before his abrupt firing last season.

Grade: One grimacing face.

Linebackers: If this group can stay healthy, I think it's the second biggest upgrade on the team. That means James Laurinaitis, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony, Nathan Stupar and Craig Robertson have to be available.

Grade: Semi-happy face.

SECONDARY: Overall, a pretty good, athletic group of DBs. Biggest area of improvement. There will be some growing pains with young cornerbacks Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams, Damian Swann, Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris and second-round pick, safety Vonn Bell. In other words, they are going to make mistakes but the potential is there. Veterans Cortland Finnegan, Kenny Vaccaro, Roman Harper and a healthy Jairus Byrd need to show the way.

Grade: Relatively happy face.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Here's where I keep undrafted rookie WR/RS Tommylee Lewis and seventh-round pick RB Daniel Lasco. Lewis is worth keeping around and Lasco is a football player. Spiller is my kick returner, Lewis my punt returner. Thomas Morstead is my punter. Justin Drescher is my snapper and I don't have a preference when it comes to Kai Forbath or Connor Barth as kicker. If push came to shove, I'd probably go to the waiver wire or sign a kicker off the street.

Grade: Mixed feelings face.

Hey, emoji-face the facts. This team is 0-3 and not playing very well,