Takeaways From the Saints Preseason Opener

Regardless of the result, the first Saints preseason game gave us a lot of good takeaways.
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BALTIMORE -- It's good to have football back. It's also good to see fans back in the stands. The Saints and Ravens met at M&T Stadium for their first preseason games of 2021, which saw Baltimore win 17-14. New Orleans had some good moments, but certainly has a lot to clean up going into their home opener against the Jaguars. 

Here's some thoughts, observations, and takeaways from the game.

Attendance

Among those missing from the Saints lineup on Saturday included: Wil Lutz, Tre'Quan Smith, Tommylee Lewis, Pete Werner, P.J. Williams, KeiVarae Russell, Marcus Williams, Adonis Alexander, and Payton Turner. Newly acquired defensive back Lawrence Woods was on the field wearing No. 38, while R.J. McIntosh was not spotted.

Many of the Saints starters did not see the field in the preseason opener. That included: Malcolm Jenkins, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk, Terron Armstead, Kwon Alexander, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, Deonte Harris, and Cam Jordan.

Starting Rotation

Here's what the offense looked like to open the game.

  • QB: Taysom Hill
  • RB: Latavius Murray
  • FB: Alex Armah (split out at tight end)
  • WR: Marquez Callaway, Lil' Jordan Humphrey
  • TE: Adam Trautman
  • OL: James Hurst, Cesar Ruiz, Erik McCoy, Andrus Peat, Ethan Greenidge

And this was the starting Saints defense, as they also rotated into nickel formation quickly.

  • DE: Tanoh Kpassagnon, Marcus Davenport
  • DT: Malcolm Roach, David Onyemata
  • LB: Kaden Elliss, Chase Hansen, Zack Baun
  • CB: Ken Crawley (left), Paulson Adebo (right)
  • S: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, J.T. Gray

Quarterback Comparison

New Orleans started with Taysom Hill, who had the first two drives end in turnovers. His first drive was just about everything you wanted to see out of him. He looked a lot more comfortable, leading the team on an 8-play, 66-yard drive before the turnover. Overall, the first four Saints offensive drives were pretty rough.

Jameis Winston led two touchdown drives, but it was the work in the two-minute drill that was most impressive. Winston hit Ty Montgomery, Juwan Johnson, and Lil'Jordan Humphrey for big plays, and the hookup to Humphrey resulted in a score. 

Initial thoughts on who did better results in a draw, as we need to go back and look at the tape a bit.

Final Stats

  • Hill: 8-of-12 (66.7%), 81 yards, 0 TDs, INT, Sack, 51.0 Rating
  • Winston: 7-of-12 (58.3%), 96 yards, TD, INT, Sack, 77.1 Rating

Michael Thomas On the Field

Michael Thomas was around during warmups, as it was reported earlier in the day. Thomas was in a walking boot and smiling while interacting with his teammates. After what seemed like a very strained relationship that only escalated after some overblown reporting, the fences are clearly being mended here

Thomas was on the sideline during the game mixing it up with teammates and even playing throw and catch with Jameis Winston. This is probably some of the best news Saints fans could get.

Stock Up

Here's several players who helped their stock after Saturday night.

  • Marquez Callaway - He was active early on, and if there some questions on whether he could handle the first receiver workload, then we got some early answers. Callaway finished catches 3 passes for 61 yards on 4 targets, all from Taysom Hill. Everything we've seen in training camp from Callaway was reinforced tonight.
  • Zack Baun - He had 5 tackles on the evening, including a tackle for loss and a pass defense. Baun was flying all over the field, and he's one who has been impressive in training camp. His growth is key, and we might say the linebacker group is a bit better than we had hoped for.
  • Marcus Davenport - We've said that it looks like the lights have come on for Davenport, and this added more fuel to the fire. Davenport looked strong in pass rushing and stopping the run. The Saints have a very talented group of defensive ends, and if Davenport can keep it up, it will help make the Trey Hendrickson departure palatable. 
  • Tony Jones Jr. - His fumble was a bad look, but he absolutely had some strong moments in the game. He was a big reason why the Saints were able to move the ball effectively. He had 7 carries for 82 yards and a score, and added 5 catches for 38 yards on 5 targets.

The Bad and Ugly

Latavius Murray had a rough start to the preseason. To fumble at any point during a game is rough, but the first turnover was on him when the team was in a position to score. He also missed a block in pass protection. He finished with 5 carries for 6 yards and added a single catch for 11 yards on 2 targets.

The Saints had four neutral zone infraction penalties on the evening. Two were on Carl Granderson, and Marcus Davenport and Malcolm Roach each had one. It's not an area you want to keep seeing issues at, and it will most assuredly get cleaned up.

New Orleans ended up having six turnovers on the evening, and it could have been more. Taysom Hill was fortunate to not have a second pick, as it was a nice job by Marquez Callaway to help negate it. The first pick looked like Hill was anticipating Ty Montgomery to keep going, but that's not what Montgomery did or saw.

Jameis Winston's pick was underthrown. Yes, Lil'Jordan Humphrey had a shot at it, but if that ball was placed a bit better, then that might have went differently. The other issue came in the fumble department. We mentioned Murray, but Devonta Freeman and Tony Jones Jr. also coughed it up.

The last turnover came from Ian Book, as it looked to be a bit underthrown intended for Kawaan Baker.

Observations and Notes

David Onyemata played pretty deep into the third quarter, and he got a good bit of work at edge. This is something we've noticed at practice, and it's interesting to see this continues happening. Naturally, he'll be out for the team's first six games, but we'll have to keep an eye out on this when he comes back.

Kick Return Teams: Again, these things somewhat matter. Here's what New Orleans trotted out as their opening return team: Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Wynton McManis, Brian Poole, Kawaan Baker, Andrew Dowell, Juwan Johnson, Noah Spence, Carl Granderson, Alex Armah, Dwayne Washington, and Ty Montgomery.

As for the kickoff team, here's what they rolled with: Grant Haley, Juwan Johnson, Alex Armah, Wynton McManis, Jake Lampman, Nolan Cooney, Kawaan Baker, Andrew Dowell, Noah Spence, Brian Poole, and Paulson Adebo.

Juwan Johnson made his reps count. He caught a lone pass from Winston on a 33-yard hookup, and then hauled in a 38-yard catch from Ian Book late in the game. He's one we've seen emerge more and more each day in camp.

Andrew Dowell made a couple of nice special teams tackles, and again he's someone that could rise up the depth charts with more time. 

Eric Burrell is a thumper, he had forced a Ravens fumble, had a tackle for loss, a sack, and also had 6 total tackles. 

Bryce Thompson had a pick and pass defense. He's a dark horse to make the final squad, but it looks like he's playing with a bunch of confidence.