The New Orleans Saints won their second preseason game, a 23-21 home victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
New Orleans rested starters Alvin Kamara, Kwon Alexander, and Marshon Lattimore, along with rookie DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner and reserve DT Malcolm Roach. Most of the other starters got at least a few series, in a de facto dress rehearsal for the September 12 opener against Green Bay.
The top units on both offense and defense looked dominant against the Jaguars. New Orleans rolled to a 14-0 lead, scoring touchdowns on two of their first three drives.
The Saints moved the ball decisively on the ground and through the air. Only two false start penalties that short-circuited their second drive could slow the Saints, who moved the ball with mid-season rhythm.
Defensively, the Saints put the clamps on Jacksonville's young offense. They forced four consecutive three-and-outs and didn't allow a first down or 3rd down conversion until the second half of the second quarter.
The top two defensive units were stifling in pass coverage, stout against the run, and created consistent pressure and disruption up front.
There were plenty of positives to take away from the win. Here are my Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down from the New Orleans victory.
JAMEIS WINSTON, QUARTERBACK
Winston started the game and played three series, leading the team to two touchdowns. He completed 9 of 10 throws for 123 yards and two touchdown passes. Both touchdown passes were perfectly placed throws that only his receiver could get to.
More impressive than Winston's stats was his command of the offense. He showed excellent poise in the pocket, especially against the blitz. His reads were smooth and decisive and his throws crisp and accurate.
Winston and Taysom Hill have battled for the starting quarterback job all summer. Both players had been similar statistically, with offensive rhythm a bit more consistent with Winston.
Coach Sean Payton declined to officially name a starter following the game. However, it seems clear that Winston has taken command of the job.
TAYSOM HILL, QUARTERBACK
While Winston took control of the quarterback duel, Hill floundered. He entered the game for the fourth series, which resulted in a throwaway, an off-target throw, and a sack after holding on to the ball too long.
Hill’s next two drives were just as ugly.
Hill quarterbacked the team for six series. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, leading the team to a touchdown in the third quarter and a field goal at the end of the half.
Hill continues to be indecisive in the pocket once his first read is covered. He repeatedly holds on to the ball too long, causing his pass protection to break down.
Hill's best weapon for the offense, his legs and athleticism, have not been on display this preseason. However, his passing abilities are not nearly developed enough to efficiently run the offense for a full season.
MARQUEZ CALLAWAY, WIDE RECEIVER
Callaway was the co-star to Winston's standout performance. He caught 5 passes for 104 yards over the first three possessions, including two spectacular touchdown grabs on long throws.
Callaway, who also had 3 receptions for 61 yards in the preseason opener, has been the team's most consistent offensive player throughout training camp. With All-Pro WR Michael Thomas sidelined until possibly mid-season, Callaway has emerged as the clear number one target.
An undrafted rookie from Tennessee in 2020, Callaway had some encouraging moments in his first year. He is quickly developing into a lethal complement to Thomas once he returns, and perhaps good enough to carry the passing attack until that happens.
The 6’2” and 204-Lb. Callaway ran precise intermediate routes to pick up key gains. He also shows the explosiveness to beat defenses down the field, with the reliable hands to be a consistent threat anywhere on the field.
KEVIN WHITE, WIDE RECEIVER
White, a free-agent pickup less than a week ago, had a rough debut after some encouraging practices. After a crisply run slant pattern in the fourth quarter, he dropped an easy reception.
On the next series, White repeated the error on the exact same play. Again, he created nice separation with a sharp cut on a slant route, but dropped an easy throw.
The number 7 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, White has been plagued with injuries his entire career. If he stays healthy, he has prototypical size (6’3” and 216-Lbs) to go along with adequate athleticism.
Unfortunately for White, he didn't do himself any favors while trying to make a New Orleans receiving corps desperate for more playmakers.
Aside from Callaway, only Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Ty Montgomery were able to make any plays against the Jacksonville secondary.
Humphrey had a nice outing after a rough week of practice. He caught 4 passes for 74 yards and a score, battling well through his short and intermediate routes.
Veterans Tre'Quan Smith and Chris Hogan continue to miss important reps with injuries. Neither Easop Winston or Kawaan Baker, both rookies, have been able to make plays. White bobbled a great opportunity to begin a jump-start to his career.
3RD/4TH TEAM DEFENSE
The Saints have good depth at nearly every defensive position, but players battling for the final roster spots didn't help their own cause.
Coverage breakdowns, poor tackling, and inconsistent run support from the Saints 3rd and 4th stringers helped Jacksonville climb back into the game.
The team was plagued with some of those issues during the second half against Baltimore last week.
Many of those players are fighting for spots on the practice squad or hoping to crack the active roster. While not indicative of the entire defense, the number of individual breakdowns and errors are concerning for depth purposes.
1ST/2ND TEAM DEFENSE
While the reserves struggled to make a play, the Saints top defensive units looked like a squad that could dominate the league.
New Orleans kept heavy pressure on Jacksonville quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Gardner Minshew through the first three quarters. Their disruption prevented the Jaguars passing attack to get into any kind of rhythm.
Individually, DE Marcus Davenport and DT Jalen Dalton were the biggest standouts up front. Linebackers Zack Baun and Kaden Elliss each had another strong outing, complementing the active Demario Davis.
Jacksonville could not get any kind of rushing attack going to support their quarterbacks. The stifling New Orleans front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, stalemating blockers and getting consistent push into the backfield.
The Saints starting secondary was just as impressive, even without Lattimore. Cornerbacks Ken Crawley and rookie Paulson Adebo clamped down on the outside receivers, with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson providing standout slot coverage.
Safeties Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins provided outstanding support for their corners, each player nearly coming up with an interception.
It may be just preseason, but the New Orleans defense already looks like a championship unit. A quarterback has finally taken control of the competition at that position, and that top unit is quickly establishing balance and rhythm.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook and Twitter @bobbyr2613.