Quick Takes: Superb defense helps Saints break preseason jinx, down Chargers

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For what it is worth, the drought is over.

The New Orleans Saints won their first preseason game since Aug. 23, 2014 when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts 23-17 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

On an evening where Alvin Kamara, Chris Banjo, Manti Te’o, A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, Al Quadin-Muhammad, Hau’oli Kikaha and Thomas Morstead turned in outstanding performances, New Orleans did it with defense and special teams, a radical departure from a team known for its outstanding offense, horrendous defense and shaky kicking game over the past few seasons.

Among those not playing included Jack Allen, Stephone Anthony, Delvin Breaux, Drew Brees, Travaris Cadet, Taveze Calhoun, Travin Dural, John Fullington, Ted Ginn Jr., Clay Harbor, Mark Ingram, Cam Jordan, Jake Lampman and Adrian Peterson.

Maybe playing a soccer stadium was the panacea.

Here are my quick takes from the Saints’ 13-7 win over the Chargers Sunday evening:

**Banjo made the tackle on the opening kickoff at the 15-yard line. He later blew up Adrian Phillips of the Chargers with a vicious block. Phillips was charging to cover a punt. Later, Banjo made a nice tackle on a high Morstead punt for no return. On the next Morstead punt, he made yet another tackle. Late in the first half, he did it again on another great Morstead punt.

**Kellen Clemens started at quarterback for San Diego. He was not very effective.

**On the first play from scrimmage, Sheldon Rankins got penetration and Alex Okafor tackled Melvin Gordon for a nine-yard loss.

**Rankins then dropped into coverage on the second play from scrimmage and had good coverage as Tyeler Davison knocked down the pass from Clemens intended for Allen. Tony McDaniel later knocked down a Clemens pass as well.
**The Saints then forced a three-and-out.

**On the first play from scrimmage, Kamara raced 50 yards for a touchdown off the left side. On the play, rookie Ryan Ramczyk had a solid block, despite having the angle on the right defensive end and Andrus Peat had a terrific seal block to spring him. Kamara hit the hole quickly and then accelerated, exposing the hole and running away from defenders.

**P.J. Williams continued to show speed in firing against the run, blowing up a crossing route on the next Chargers possession.

**Kikaha continued to show that he is recovered from his latest knee surgery, drawing a hold on a good pass rush on the second series of the game. He later made a nice play on a wide running play, fighting off a block, holding his ground and making the play.

**Chase Daniel got the start and looked good. On one play, in particular, he hung in the pocket against a fierce rush and delivered a solid completion to Michael Thomas, despite taking a hit.

**Wil Lutz drilled a 53-yard field goal to make it 10-0. He hit it slightly low but he hit it long and deep. The snap and hold were solid as well.

**Nate Stupar made a nice play on the ensuing kickoff. Lutz hit a good, deep kickoff into the end zone and the coverage was excellent. Stupar is a very good special teams player.

**Alex Anzalone was flagged for defensive holding, keeping a Chargers drive alive. Still, he played fast and played well and has a definite future with this team.

**Klein had a good push and Okafor beat his man with a speed rush for a sack of Kellem. Klein then created havoc again with a quick blitz and Sheldon Rankins, who got good push up the middle, collected a sack.

**After a drive stalled due to allowing a sack, Morstead punted beautifully to the Chargers’ 5 -yard line with Klein hustling to down it.

**Te’o made two consecutive outstanding plays in the second quarter, hitting Branden Oliver for a one-yard loss on an inside run and sacking Clemens for a 10-yard loss. He made another play, hitting Kenjon Barner for a loss at the one-yard line. Te’o finished the first half with seven solo tackles, an assist and a sack. Three of his tackles were for losses.

**Ramczyk gave up a sack on a corner blitz and got beat on an inside move by a linebacker and held blatantly. He was flagged for a second hold later in the half. He clearly has work to do against speed rushers and in pass blocking overall.

**Another safety fighting to make it is veteran Rafael Bush. He helped himself, stuffing a fourth-and-one at the Saints’ 41-yard line late in the first half.

**Bryce Harris was flagged for illegal hands to the face to kill a drive late in the first half.

**Ryan Nassib started the second half at quarterback, getting time ahead of Garrett Grayson, who did not play. Willie Snead and Coby Fleener were the only starters to open the second half on offense. Nassib did not take advantage of the opportunity.

**Obum Gwacham, who is battling for a roster spot, beat his man off the edge for a sack in the third quarter.
**Robertson had consecutive impressive plays in the third quarter, laying the wood on an attempted screen pass and then coming up with a sack.

**Damian Swann committed pass interference to give the Chargers a first down. Swann is in danger of not making the final cut. It came on a third-and-20 and it went for 29 yards. Swann was beaten on the next play for another first down.

**Cardale Jones hit Jamaal Jones to the New Orleans 10-yard line but Sterling Moore forced a fumble and Te’o continued his fantastic performance by recovering the loose ball to kill the first real Chargers threat of the game. Moore reached out and stripped it, coming off of his primary assignment. It was a very good play.

**Muhammad, who showed well from scrimmage again, was guilty of a hold on a punt. He later redeemed himself with a pair of sacks on successive plays to help clinch the victory. Muhammad will stick. He plays with obvious enthusiasm.

**Stupar made a great read and break on a ball but dropped an interception that may have resulted in a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

**Tommylee Lewis made an outstanding catch, fully outstretched, then managed to execute a beautiful toe-tap to get both feet down in bounds in the fourth quarter. Props to Lewis, who is making a bid to stick as a receiver, rather than a return artist as Kamara looks to be the guy to return punts.

**Strangely, Willie Snead played virtually the whole game. Strangely, he had a rare drop as well. Snead had a nice seal block on a nice run for a first down by Darius Victor to give New Orleans a goal-to-go situation at the Los Angeles eight-yard line. Victor ran hard in his stint on the field.

**Nassib then threw one behind Lewis, who got hands on it but it was a poor throw and former Lutcher High star Dexter McCoil returned it 96 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-7 with 8:52 to play in the game.

**Trey Edmunds also ran it well in the fourth quarter as the offensive line blocked the run well, leading to a 26-yard field goal by Lutz to make it 13-7 with 2:11 to play in the game.

**Adam Bighill put the game away with an interception on the final offensive play of the game for Los Angeles with 36 seconds left.

**The Saints recorded six sacks on the evening, a very pleasant sight and development.

The focus in the offseason was to improve the defense. The early returns are encouraging. While many, including myself, have focused on the changes and potential improvements in the secondary, the changes and improvement at linebacker has been very noticeable. It is a much deeper, more athletic group than what we have seen in recent years.
While it is preseason, you cannot ignore the 12 sacks in two exhibition games thus far by New Orleans. That is a direct result of linebackers shooting gaps and their edge rush ability.

Perhaps the negative was the lack of a consistent passing game and the lack of consistent pass blocking by the Saints.
You have to consider the fact that the two teams were together three times overall and familiarity, along with being conservative with the playbook, can result in the type of game you saw.

New Orleans held the Chargers to just 158 yards of offense to go with their eight sacks. The Saints had a modest 265 total yards but 157 were rushing, an encouraging sign.

Sean Payton was pleased with how the team played defensively and with the kick coverage teams, as well he should have been. Kamara had six total touches for 83 yards. He looks to be worth the investment the Saints made in him. Payton also felt the Saints were opportunistic and played with energy.

Now, it is on to a home preseason game next week with Houston before the final practice game with Baltimore on Aug. 31.

Winning always leaves you with a positive feeling. As I always say, winning a preseason game means nothing but considering nine straight losses, it was a good development to get one on the upside for a team trying to learn how to be a winner after three straight losing seasons.

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Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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