The third game of the preseason is the most meaningful, as it is used by NFL teams as a dress rehearsal for the fast-approaching regular season. Starters play their most snaps of the preseason and likely their last ones until the season opener, as the majority of them sit out the final preseason game. The fact that the Houston Texans third preseason game is against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints makes it a good barometer for the Houston defense.
That is especially true for a pair of young safeties, Shiloh Keo and D.J. Swearinger, who will be tested by the passing attack of Brees and the Saints. Keo will continue to start alongside Danieal Manning in the place of Ed Reed, who is on the mend and likely to come off of the physically unable to perform list this week. Swearinger will also get plenty of action against the ones and twos of the Saints. There isn’t any better opponent for Keo and Swearinger to test their regular season readiness against than New Orleans.
They will be tested in coverage in a way that they have not been this preseason, as Brees and company will throw the ball downfield early and often. Last season, Brees led the league with 5,177 passing yards, and in the process became the first quarterback in NFL history with back-to-back 5,000 plus yard seasons. He’s only led the league in passing touchdowns four of the past five seasons. Brees looked to be in midseason form last week when he was 14-18 for 202 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders.
With Brees and New Orleans head coach Sean Payton back from a yearlong suspension, the Saints passing game will be one of the most potent in the league once again. In 2012, for the second straight year, New Orleans boasted the NFL‘s third-pass-heaviest play calling. That means there will be plenty of work today for Keo and Swearinger in the Texans secondary. Both are likely to be on the field at the same time in Houston’s dime defense, as New Orleans will spread the field with four and five wide receiver sets.
Keo was a special teams captain for the Texans last season, and played more in the secondary in the dime package down the stretch. Now in his third season, he has received first team reps throughout preseason as Reed has continued to rehab and work his way back onto the field. He had an interception in the first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, when he was at the right place at the right time. He will need to be in the right spots once again today, as he will be directly in the crosshairs of Brees at free safety.
Swearinger, the rookie second-round pick with a reputation as a hard hitter, will also be in the scope. He was in the national spotlight last week for the low hit he delivered to Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller that tore up Keller’s knee and ended his season. Although viewed by some as a cheap shot, it was a legal hit for which Swearinger was not flagged for or fined by the league office. He handled the incident well this past week, and he has moved on from the controversy to get ready for his biggest NFL test yet.
While the matchup today at Reliant Stadium will be a regular season dress rehearsal for the Texans, it will be an ideal measuring stick for Keo and Swearinger. It will be akin to a trial by fire, with Brees playing the role of flamethrower. How much they have improved from the beginning of training camp, and how much more they have to go, will be on full display in front of a national television audience.