While teams don't like to show much in preseason games, the Saints gave fans a good, long look at what they plan to be under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard last week.
The key word in the previous paragraph was good, as in good play, which is what Sheppard got from his top offensive unit in a 37-27 win over the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Sure, there was a dropped pass by wide receiver Joe Horn that became an interception for the Patriots and Aaron Brooks muffed a snap from center that ended a scoring drive. But for the most part, it was encouraging to Sheppard after a shaky performance one week earlier.
In the second quarter, the Saints ran 30 plays and had 10 first downs while converting 5 of 6 third-down opportunities. They also held the ball for more than 12 minutes in the quarter, scoring a touchdown and getting two field goals in four drives.
What was more telling was that 14 of the first 21 plays in the quarter were runs and every one picked up positive yardage.
"That's what we try to be," running back Deuce McAllister said. "We want to lay on people, control the ball, control the clock and beat teams up and grind them. That's who we are."
It wasn't pretty, but it certainly was effective as the Saints rushed for 183 yards -- including 125 in the first half against the Patriots' starters.
Fans who wondered what the new streamlined attack would look like under Sheppard now have a good idea of what to expect when the regular season begins because the Saints used their starters for three quarters against the Patriots in what was used as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
"It's pretty close," Sheppard said. "We wanted to play like we practiced, and I think we got closer to that."
In their exhibition opener against the Seattle Seahawks, the Saints had three turnovers, had a critical pre-snap penalty and were anything but cohesive in a 34-15 loss. At New England, they ran 82 plays with only four of them resulting in lost yardage.
"We didn't have very many mental errors or missed assignments," Sheppard said. "And I thought we were physical. We had to prove that that's who we are."
--Because the Saints are thin at tackle with backups Jon Stinchcomb and Spencer Folau injured, guard/center Jamar Nesbit was asked to give right tackle a shot last week.
Nesbit, a seven-year veteran, hadn't played the position since the former South Carolina standout was an All-SEC first-team pick at left tackle as a sophomore and junior in 1996 and '97. He was switched to guard the next season.
Nesbit played the fourth quarter of last Thursday night's exhibition game with the New England Patriots and did OK, according to Saints coach Jim Haslett.
"We're just trying to get some options, more than anything," Haslett said. "He played it in the game, and he did OK. He didn't screw anything up. We're just going to keep working him there."
"I'm going to pull a groin trying to get out there on those fast ends," Nesbit said with a laugh after the game. "Whatever it takes to help the team out."
--Saints running back Antowain Smith received a nice round of applause from Patriots' fans when he entered the game in the second quarter last week in relief of Deuce McAllister.
Smith played for the Patriots from 2001-03, rushing for 1,157 yards in 2001 when they won the first of their three Super Bowl titles. Smith carried 13 times for 54 yards Thursday night.
"I heard it," said Smith. "They gave me a little love, and it felt good."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Saints had a new set of starters at defensive tackle when they returned to practice on Saturday after their 37-27 exhibition win over the New England Patriots on Thursday night.
With Brian Young sidelined for the remainder of the preseason with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left leg, an injury that occurred in the Patriots' game, the Saints turned to seven-year veteran Willie Whitehead to help out in a pinch.
Also, third-year player Johnathan Sullivan moved ahead of Howard Green at nose tackle based on Sullivan's play in the team's two exhibition games, Saints coach Jim Haslett said.
"Johnathan has had two good games in a row, so we're going to get him more work," Haslett said. "I think the last two games he has made the most tackles of all the defensive linemen. Now we're looking for consistency. He only played 14 plays last week, so we will see what he can do with 40 or 50 plays."
The sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Siullivan has had two disappointing seasons and had split time between the second and third teams in training camp this summer.
TE Shad Meier, who had his left knee scoped on Aug. 2, was expected back at practice Saturday, but he had a setback with swelling.
SLB James Allen continues to be sidelined with a bone bruise on his left knee and WLB Cie Grant (knee tendinitis) will also be out indefinitely.
WRs Talman Gardner (ankle) and Az-Zahir Hakim (hamstring) and RB Keith Joseph (ankle) should be back this week.
G/T Spencer Folau continues to work his way back from off-season shoulder surgery.
TE Boo Williams (hamstring) is expected to be out all this week.
Good stuff. Horn is really starting to look old though.