The preseason is finally underway and the New Orleans Saints began it with a promising 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Friday night.
The hype around the game was a little higher than usual with the anticipated debuts of rookies Brandin Cooks and Michael Sam.
Brandin Cooks didn’t disappoint. The first round pick out of Oregon State led all receivers with eight targets, catching five of them for 55 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a 25-yard score showcasing his quick cutting ability and blazing speed. Cooks was able to get open at will throughout the game and made some solid catches in traffic as well.
Michael Sam lined up at defensive end for the Rams in the game. His night was quiet for the most part, recording one tackle and one QB hit.
Mark Ingram led the Saints’ running attack with eight carries for 83 yards and a touchdown. The preseason could be important for Ingram as many people believe Khiry Robinson could win the starting job. Ingram didn’t disappoint in the opener as he displayed his strong running ability and good speed for his size as well.
Robinson was also effective in his work in the backfield. He finished the game with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to watch this battle continue in the postseason as they battle for the role of primary back in the Saints’ offense.
With Drew Brees sitting out of the contest with an oblique strain, there were plenty of snaps to take at quarterback in this one. Second year QB Ryan Griffin was extremely effective after taking over for Luke McCown. He finished the game going 16/23 for 179 yards and one touchdown. Griffin has a very good chance at winning the backup QB job if he continues to impress as he has in training camp and in his first preseason game.
Without starting guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, the offensive line was very good early on. Center Tim Lelito stood out to me with some impressive blocks. The battle between him and Jonathan Goodwin seems to be very close and the preseason performances could determine the winner. Goodwin is the seasoned veteran with proven consistency and previous experience for the Saints, while Lelito seems to be the more skilled lineman at this point. It will be a tough decision for Sean Payton to make before the opener. Either way, it’s never a bad thing to have depth on the offensive line.
The standout of the night on defense was defensive end Tyrunn Walker. Walker finished the game with six tackles, including three tackles-for-loss and one sack. Walker made two awesome stops in a row on a third-and-one and fourth-and-one for the Saints’ defense.
The secondary struggled a little bit for the Saints throughout the game. Rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste was beaten badly by Rams receiver Stedman Bailey for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He’s in a battle for playing time at cornerback and can’t give up too many plays like that in the preseason if he hopes to see the field very much this season.
Shayne Graham missed one of the “new and exciting” extra point attempts tonight, although he did convert from 37 yards in the first quarter.
All in all, it was a successful preseason opener for the New Orleans Saints as they saw success from some key players in the offense. The team will get back to work this week preparing for their battle against the Tennessee Titans next Friday in the Superdome.