Preseason opener shows Saints still have a lot of work to do

LES EAST | SPECIAL TO THE DAILY IBERIAN

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints showed in their preseason opener that they have a lot of work to do.

Their defense allowed 460 yards, their offense was inconsistent (337 yards with more than 33 minutes of possession time) and they were outgained in both the running game (213-141) and the passing game (247-196) in a 34-25 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Friday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It’s true that some key players did not participate — most notably quarterback Drew Brees and defensive end Cameron Jordan — and there are three more preseason games and lots of time left before the Sept. 9 season opener against Houston.

But preseason games are supposed to reveal emerging players who are prepared to sneak into the starting lineup, inch up the depth chart or otherwise provide needed depth.

Overall there wasn’t enough of that against the Vikings, who drove to a touchdown on the game’s first possession and never relinquished the lead.

“I think the things that stood out were yards per play, yards per pass, yards per rush, where they were better than us,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said.

The Vikings’ advantages were 8.5-5.3 in yards per play, 9.1-5.6 in yards per pass and 7.9-4.9 in yards per rush.

Teddy Bridgewater started in Brees’ place and was mostly effective, completing 14-of-19 for 134 yards and a touchdown, connecting with eight different receivers, while playing the first half. He did take a couple of sacks when he appeared to hold the ball too long.

“My main goal was to create tempo, create rhythm and try to establish my identity,” Bridgewater said. “I think we did a good job of doing that.”

Taysom Hill played the second half and completed 8 of 14 for 80 yards and a touchdown and rushed six times for a team-high 45 yards.

Former Vikings running back Latavius Murray, playing in his first game as a Saint after replacing free-agent loss Mark Ingram II, rushed three times for 14 yards and caught three passes for 22 yards.

Dwayne Washington, the front-runner to grab the third spot behind Murray and starter Alvin Kamara, had a team-high eight rushes for 26 yards.

Deonte Harris returned three kickoffs for 90 yards and former LSU track star Cyril Grayson Jr. had two kickoff returns for 61 yards in addition to catching two passes for 32 yards.

The Saints opened the game with Jordan being the only missing defensive starter. Trey Hendrickson started in his place and wound up with the Saints’ only sack.

Minnesota took the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards, scoring a touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Alexander Mattison.

Bridgewater drove New Orleans 55 yards on the ensuing possession, but a holding call on Zach Line negated a 3-yard touchdown run by Kamara and the Saints settled for a 27-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who would go on to make three more field goals in as many tries.

After Lutz’s second field goal, the Vikings extended their lead to 14-6 on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Sean Mannion to Olabisi Johnson.

The Vikings were threatening to increase the lead late in the second quarter before Ameer Abdullah fumbled and Saints linebacker Vince Biegel recovered.

Bridgewater used the two-minute offense to drive the team 79 yards, connecting with tight end Dan Arnold for n 18-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion pass failed, leaving Minnesota with a 14-12 halftime lead.

“I like how we handled the two-minute offense,” Payton said.

The Vikings sandwiched Nate Meadors’ 30-yard interception return for a touchdown and Kyle Sloter’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Khari Blasingame around Lutz’s third field goal to take a 27-15 lead after three quarters.

Lutz’s final field goal and a Hill-Lil’Jordan Humphrey touchdown got New Orleans within 27-25 with 8:44 left, but less than two minutes later Minnesota’s Mike Boone broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run that completed the scoring.

“I think we could tackle better,” Payton said. “I’m sure when we watch the tape, there are going to be a number of details that you will want to pull your hair out with and yet that is why we’re watching it.”

The Saints won’t practice Saturday before returning to the practice field Sunday and Monday. They will take Tuesday off before traveling Wednesday to Los Angeles, where they will practice against the Chargers twice before facing them in preseason game number two on Aug. 18.

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