I was generally pleased with what I saw in the New Orleans Saints‘ preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs this past Friday. Although the Drew Brees led offense was unable to produce a touchdown, backup Luke McCown was able to throw two to Preston Parker. Kenny Stills showcased his breakaway speed and an ability to separate from defenders and make receptions. The running game left a little to be desired with only 119 rushing yards and one fumble from Darren Sproles, but I have faith these kinks will work out. Sean Payton has already expressed his desire to shore up the ground game earlier this summer.
The new Rob Ryan 3-4 defense gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive on the Chiefs’ first possession of the game but was able to tighten up after that. Kansas City failed to score another touchdown the rest of the game and was limited to two field goals. Additionally, the Saints defense allowed only 215 total yards and even recovered one fumble. All in all, not a bad performance following their disappointing effort last year when they allowed 7,042 total yards of offense.
Much improvement needs to be made on special teams, however. The New Orleans special teams unit allowed a 79-yard kickoff return to Knile Davis and a 55-yard punt return to Dexter McCluster. Overall Kansas City netted 136 yards on kick returns and 106 yards on punt returns.
This is unacceptable.
Allowing such huge gains on kickoffs and punt returns will only make things harder for Ryan’s new defense and what he is trying to accomplish. Difficulties for the defense will ultimately turn into difficulties for the offense in the long run. Coach Payton recognized this after the game.
“If our special teams don’t improve,” he said, “we’ll be in deep trouble.”
Payton must work with special teams coach Greg McMahon to get their house in order and figure out how to correct the special teams mistakes. Whether it’s due to personnel, bad coaching or just preseason rustiness, special teams needs to be a priority if the Saints want to return to their winning ways.