Thoughts From NFL Preseason: Jaguars @ Saints
By David Johns
The Jaguars traveled to the Mercedes-Benz Dome on Friday night and squared off against NFC powerhouse, the New Orleans Saints. If you’ve been living in a hole for a year, Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s passing record last season. To say that Brees is one of the greats is an understatement. Drew Brees is…well…Drew Brees.
As exciting as the win was, the last thing that matters in a preseason game is the final score. You of course want to watch the starters in the early stages of the game, and watch individuals trying to make the team in the later part.
The Jaguars opened up Friday night’s game with a 9 play 80 yard drive. It was a bit more run heavy than last week’s opening drive, but similiar in execution. Rashad Jennings had some impressive runs. He had 6 carries for 42 yards all by his lonesome in the opening drive alone. He continues to prove that he is ready to be the lead back in Jacksonville. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and ended the night with 62 yards on 11 carries. Blaine Gabbert continued to throw short and intermediate passes, but at a high completion rate. He’s playing safe, smart and very tough. He saw a little pressure in this game, but stood tall and delivered. He capped the drive off with a 16 yard bullet to 2012 5th overall pick Justin Blackmon for a touchdown. Speaking of Justin Blackmon, it’s apparent he’s an extremely physical receiver who is able to get separation at the line of scrimmage. He ended his night with 48 yards on 4 grabs and a touchdown. I saw two catches in particular where he was able to shake his defender, and it turns out he’s got a mean stiff arm. Just ask Curtis Lofton. Is Blackmon the answer? He’s definitely better than anything this team has had in a long time.
Drew Brees and the Saints more often than not answer right back because that’s just what they do. They were well on their way. They had some good gains on their opening drive. At first our linebackers seemed to have a very difficult time running with their arsenal of backs and receivers. Paul Posluszny did a good job of floating sideline to sideline, and whenever the ball carrier would burst through into the second level it seemed as if “Poz” was always there to either make the stop or chase him down before he could gain any more yards. Posluszny swatted down the pass that stopped the Saints in their tracks and forced them to settle for a field goal.
Blaine came right back and led his guys down the field for a 14 play, 66 yard drive. Colin Cloherty, who seemed to catch everything thrown his way, caught the 15 yard score. There’s a play in the 2nd quarter, however, that really caught my attention. 12 minutes and 55 seconds to go until the half. The Saints seemingly brought heat from everywhere. Gabbert didn’t flinch. He stood and hit Mike Thomas for a first down. That play in itself showed our quarterback’s progression. He actually looked like an NFL quarterback.
The Saint’s second drive of the night didn’t last very long at all. It was ended pretty quick by a Mincey sack forced fumble, and a Terrance Knighton recovery. The Jags took over in Saint’s territory, and while they didn’t get 6, they were able to get 3.
Later in the second quarter, Brees did take the field and pretty much threw the ball all over our defense. If halftime arrives and you hold the Saints to only 10 points…I’d consider it a small victory nonetheless.
Our starters on both offense and defense did well last Friday night. It’s clear that we will be running a lot of high completion pass plays and the running back by committee approach led by Jennings and Owens has been more than successful this preseason. Blaine no longer has happy feet and completed 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns which is highly encouraging. Our offensive line still needs to get healthy. Bradfield had a better game at left tackle than he did right tackle and Whimper was OK on the other side, but the Saints aren’t really known for their destructive pass rush. Yes, they can get after the passer just as good as the next team, but their defense isn’t feared or mentioned with the likes of teams like the Steelers or Ravens. Facing teams with more aggressive defenses like the Bears and the Texans will really put this line to the test and hopefully by then Monroe and Rackley will have returned and Britton will be playing his natural position at right tackle.
We still don’t seem to have a deep threat. That could come back to haunt us when facing offenses that put up a lot of points like the Patriots, Lions, and the Packers. We’ll have to find ways to score quick if we get caught up in a shoot out.
This year’s defense will be much like last year’s. They play very tough at the line of scrimmage, and have the potential to get penetration but have to do it more consistently. I’d like to see our defenders shed blocks a little better and do a better job of tackling. Too many times they’d get tangled and the ball carrier would just fly on by. The front 4 looks ready. Especially Andre Branch. He plays with speed and held his own against pro-bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod.
Yes, Tucker’s unit made the Saints settle for a field goal and forced a turnover but unfortunately for us if this were the regular season the Saints wouldn’t have taken Brees out at the half.
I don’t know why we didn’t, but Mularkey totally let the Saints get away with one. I believe it was Andre Branch who chased down Lance Moore and knocked the ball out of his hands. It was clearly a fumble. We can’t let those calls get away during the regular season. I’m confident we won’t. After all it’s preseason for the coaching staff too.
What’s the other thing we watch for in preseason games? Individuals and their position battles. You can really get a feel for what coaches think about certain bubble players by where they start in case of injury. For instance Kyle Bosworth was starting for Daryl Smith. Does that mean he has a leg up on young linebackers like UDFAs J.K. Schaeffer, Julian Stanford, and 5th round pick Brandon Marshall? Probably.
Looks like Mike Brewster is officially the back up center for BRAD Meester, and Kevin Rutland, not Antwon Blake, ran with our ones in nickle situations.
Speaking of rookies like Schaeffer and Blake…Schaeffer had a nice 2 yard TFL and Blake had an AMAZING tackle on a punt return stopping the PR in his tracks for no gain. If they want to make this team, they better play special teams.
I liked the protection converted defensive lineman Drew Nowak provided but as the game went on, particularly on the last drive of the 4th quarter, he seemed to get sloppy.
Keith Toston was on his way to having a very good game with a long run of 40 yards. He would have been on his way…until he injured his hamstring. Hopefully it’s not serious.
The two players on the 2nd and 3rd team defense who really impressed me were Chris Prosinski and 2012 7th rounder Jeris Pendleton. Prosinski ended the night with 5 tackles and made some nice ones in space. He showed good pursuit and good hustle. Pendleton is a very large man and totally collapsed the pocket on one play. I hope there’s room for him on our already crowded defensive line rotation.
Chad Henne had a poorly thrown ball intercepted. Then he was attacked out of nowhere by one of the Saint’s 2nd teamers. Henne actually did alright though. Yeah he got knocked down, but dragged down the back up defender with him using one arm. The best part was when Henne walked to the sideline. Did anyone else see Gabbert say to Henne, “man…f*ck that guy.”?
Palmer threw the game-winning touchdown. He hit receivers Chastin West and Mike Brown on the game winning drive, but the Saints didn’t help themselves much by committing several penalties. It looks like Palmer took a page out of the Gabbert playbook and hit Kevin Elliot in the end zone for the game before getting drilled. Palmer’s numbers were much more pedestrian this time around and that’s putting it nicely…but one threw a pick and the other won the game. Just stating facts.
So almost all of the local news stations are bragging about being 2-0 in preseason. That’s just how starved this city is for a winning team. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone bragging about that. It’s preseason. Don’t get caught up in the hype. We don’t know how this team will perform come regular season.
We DO know:
-Gabbert HAS improved
-The offense includes a healthy dose of run/pass
-Losing MJD hasn’t hurt us
-Rashad Jennings can carry the load
-Our defense and kicking game SHOULD be two of the best in the league
And that’s something to be excited about. It’s enough to get this fan base excited about football again and hopefully revitalize the city’s passion for this team.
-David R. Johns