It’s just two games into their preseason schedule, but the New Orleans Saints appear to be in mid-season form.
Saints starters on both sides of the ball played almost the entire first half in a 28-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders Friday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With the wide receiver corps still taking shape, quarterback Drew Brees involved several of his wide-outs early and often in the first half game plan.
The Saints’ offense cruised through the opening half as Brees put up gaudy numbers — 14-for-18, 202 yards and a touchdown — and distributed the ball to six different receivers.
Young receivers Kenny Stills and Nick Toon have played consistently well throughout training camp and preseason, in what has been an entertaining competition for the third position on the depth chart behind veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore.
“The two young receivers started the game for us at X and Z, Nick Toon and Kenny Stills,” Brees said in a postgame press conference. “Since they’re in the game, they’re going to have the ball thrown their way. We had great tempo throughout that whole first half. Not every look they got was your standard look. They did a great job adjusting to that and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Stills led all receivers with 64 yards on four receptions, while Toon accrued all of his 56 yards on one play — an over-the-shoulder grab at full stride that brought the Saints inside the Raiders’ five yard line and led to a two-yard touchdown run by running back Mark Ingram.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, the Saints’ defensive starters looked impressive as well, nearly closing out the first half with a shutout and sacking Raiders’ starting quarterback Matt Flynn five times.
“I thought individually there were a lot of great efforts,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said after the game. “I thought defensively we handled the short field well tonight, and that was encouraging. Early on, I thought we played with the emotion that we talked about, and I was pleased with the first quarter and a half, two quarters.”
With linebackers Jonathan Vilma (sidelined for the remainder of the preseason while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery) and Victor Butler (gone for the season after suffering a torn ACL in training camp) out, the spotlight shined on the Saints’ linebackers in Friday night’s game.
Ramon Humber, who played every first-half snap at inside linebacker, made an impression on fans and coaches with six solo tackles, three assists and one sack.
“I did whatever I could to help the team win tonight,” Humber said. “With pass coverage and getting off blocks and blitzing; just helping the team overall.”
“You just have to go out there and perform,” Humber added. “You have to show the coaches and teammates that they can trust you.”
Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro also benefitted from extensive playing time. He picked up six tackles, which — along with Humber — led all defensive players.
The Saints’ next preseason matchup will be Sunday, August 25 at the Houston Texans.