The Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints square off this Saturday night in the third week of the preseason (the fourth week for the Saints, who played in this year’s Hall of Fame Game). With only one preseason game remaining after this one, this is the week NFL teams use a regular season dress rehearsal. Most starters will play sparingly if at all in the last preseason contest, as those games will compose of mostly backups and players battling for roster spots looking to make a strong final impression before cutdowns. Coach Gary Kubiak has said that he will play his starters for 3 quarters Saturday, so this contest will have more of a regular season feel than the first two Texan preseason games. Both the Texans and Saints, (despite losing head coach Sean Payton and LB Jonathan Vilma for the season due to the bounty scandal) enter the season with high hopes after coming off of similarly successful 2011 campaigns. Both teams won their respective divisions, won a playoff game and lost on the road in the divisional round to the eventual conference runner up. As the Texans get ready to return to New Orleans, let’s take a look back at their regular season matchup in week 3 of last season, a wild 40-33 Saints shootout victory.
The Texans traveled to New Orleans at 2-0, coming off of a 34-7 home win over the Indianapolis Colts and a 23-13 road victory against the Miami Dolphins. The Saints were 1-1 following a 42-34 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the season opening kickoff game and a 30-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Texans got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 10-0 1st quarter lead on the strength of a Matt Schaub 14 yard touchdown pass to TE Owen Daniels and a 22 yard Neil Rackers field goal. The Saints got on the board in the 2nd quarter when RB Darren Sproles scampered for a 30 yard touchdown run to cut the Texans lead to 10-7. The Texans would move the ball well on their next two drives, only to settle for matching Rackers 27 yard field goals. The second drive was especially disappointing, as they failed to fully capitilize on a short field following an interception of Saints QB Drew Brees. This would come back to haunt them in the end, as they learned like many other teams in 2011, that leaving points on the field against Brees and the high powered Saints offense was not a good idea. The Saints would get a John Kasey 35 yard field goal before the half, and the Texans went into the locker room up only 16-10 despite outplaying the Saints by much more than that.
The Saints took their first lead of the game at 17-16 in the 3rd quarter on a Brees 2 yard TD pass on a fade route to WR Robert Meachem. In sticking with their 2nd quarter theme (and eventual downfall) the Texans stalled after a 11 play drive and settled for Rackers fourth field goal of the game, a 36 yarder that put them up 19-17 heading into the 4th quarter. That is when the fireworks, and aerial show began. The Texans struck first in the fourth on a beautiful diving 26 yard TD reception by FB/TE/jack of all trades James Casey. Casey, who was lined up at fullback on the play, ran a wheel route out of the backfield down the right sideline. Schaub led him down the sideline and Casey got a step on the Saints LB, layed out and made a diving grab across the goal line to extend the Texans lead to 26-17. Their nine point 4th quarter lead was not safe however, as Brees and company went to work on the Texans secondary. Displaying their quick strike ability, Brees hit TE Jimmy Graham on a 27 yard TD pass to cap a 5 play drive that only took 1:50. Following the Texans first turnover of the game on a Schaub pick, Brees struck again, this time hitting WR Lance Moore from 16 yards out to erase the Texans lead and pull the Saints ahead. The Saints went for the 2 point conversion, and Brees found Moore again to extend the Saints lead to 32-26.
The Saints were rolling, and the Louisiana Superdome was rocking, but the Texans fought back in impressive fashion. Schaub led a 9 play, 80 yard drive that ended in yet another spectacular, if yet lucky touchdown grab for the Texans, this time by WR Kevin Walter. Facing a tremendous pass rush from one of former Saints defensive coordinator’s (and now infamous bounty ring leader Greg Williams) patented blitzes, Schaub was forced to release the ball early to avoid taking a sack. The pass was deflected by a Saints defender, but before it hit the ground bounced off the back of Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had slipped and was laying on the field. The ball then bounced upward and the always alert Walter was Johnny on the spot and scooped the ball out of the air. He then turned upfield and ran the remaining 10 yards for the score to give the Texans a precarious 33-32 lead. Surely, that was not the way the play was drawn up, but the Texans took the end result. However, the reason the one point fourth quarter lead was precarious (and short lived), was because the red hot Brees had one more shot and boy did he deliver. Brees drove the Saints 93 yards in an insane 1:31, which was capped by RB Mark Ingram’s 13 yard tackle breaking TD run against a tired Texans defense that just couldn’t keep up with the Saints in the fourth. How proficient was the Saints offense in the 4th quarter? Following that score they ran the exact same 2 point conversion play as earlier and got the same result, a Brees completion to Moore to give them a 40-33 lead. The Texans had one last shot but turned the ball over on downs and suffered their first loss of the season by being on the wrong end of a high scoring thriller.
The 40 points were by far the most the Texans 2nd ranked defense gave up last season. The next highest total they allowed was 29 in a week 6 loss at the Baltimore Ravens. Despite picking Brees off twice, they still allowed him to pass for 370 yards and 3 TDs on the day. The Texans offense, particularly Schaub and the passing game, weren’t to shabby themselves. Playing without RB Arian Foster, who sat this one out nursing an injured hamstring, the Texans finished with 473 yards of total offense. Schaub was 22/39 for 373 yards, 3 TDs and 1 int, while 2 pass catchers (WR Andre Johnson - 7 rec. 128 yds, and Casey – 5 for 126) both went over the century mark receiving. They actually outgained the Saints, who finished with 454 total yards, but the inability to finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goals ultimately doomed them. It was going to be hard to contain Brees all game long and once he got hot in the 4th quarter, the Texans were toast. The Texans had nothing to be ashamed of however, as New Orleans is an extremely difficult place for visitors to win. The Saints enjoy one of the best home field advantages in the league with their fast break offense playing on astroturf. Last season, 9 teams walked into the Superdome and all 9 teams went home with losses. Saturday night’s game will again be a good test for the Bulls On Parade, as Brees and his high flying act will be waiting once again.