Obviously the game didn't turn out the way that we all hoped but it wasn't nearly as bad as the 14 point deficit would indicate. While the game wasn't pretty at times, I think it's about what you'd expect out of a first preseason game. There were plenty of sloppy, bone-headed plays but several players, young and veteran alike, had good games and flashed the abilities that we've heard so much about during training camp. The best thing about the game though, no injuries reported. Here's a recap of the first half of the game and we'll look at the second half and highs and lows, later today.
Saints 1st drive: The Saints got the ball first and it didn't take them long to punch the ball in the endzone going 80 yards in 13 plays. The Cardinals defense killed themselves with three penalties resulting in 25 total yards, including two penalties (for 20 yards) in the first 3 plays. The biggest penalty was a 15 yard face mask penalty (all face mask penalties are 15 yarders this year) on Darnell Dockett. The defense did a good job of bottling up Reggie Bush though allowing him just 10 yards on 5 carries during the Saints first drive but the problem was stopping Drew Brees who was 6 of 7 for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Cards 1st Drive: The Cardinals first offensive series only lasted seven plays and included another Cardinal penalty (delay of game on the punt team). The Cards tried to run twice with little success but Leinart did a good job of showing patience in the pocket and finding his receivers. He connected Rector on a 3rd and 8 that resulted in a 23 yard gain and the only first down of the drive. The downer of the drive though came when Levi Brown couldn't stop a blitzing linebacker from dropping Leinart for four yard sack. On the next play (3rd and 10) Leinart could only find a check down reciever and got 7 yards on a pass to Urban.
Saints 2nd Drive: The Saints next possession lasted just three plays and was dominated by two holding penalties resulting in 18 lost yards. Other than those two plays the Saints managed two yards on a run by Bush and a short pass to David Patten.
Cards 2nd Drive: The Cardinals second drive actually started at the very end of the first quarter but most of the action was in the second. The drive started with consecutive passes to J.J. Arrington that totaled 5 yards (one complete, one incomplete) but the best offensive play of the night happened on third and five. Leinart took the snap and hung in the pocket until Breaston streaked across the middle and took a short pass for 34 yards up the sideline. The Cardinals got two more first downs behind six yard gains by Hightower and Fitzgerald and an impressive 15 yard reception by Terrelle Smith that got the offense down to the one. Hightower would score a Cardinals touchdown on first and goal from the one when he bounced outside and showed a good burst to get to the pylon.
Saints 3rd Drive: The second string Cardinals defense would shut down the Saints on their next drive after a big return on the kickoff. The Saints started at the Cardinals 42 but after three plays (one run, two passes) the Saints were facing a fourth and one from the 33. The Saints went for it but Kenny Iwebema fought through a cut block to sack Brunell and give the ball back to the offense.
Cards 3rd Drive: The Cardinals would take over at their 41 they'd quickly be in position to take the lead. After a quick mix of Hightower runs (two runs for 7 yards) and St. Pierre passes (3 of 5 for 25 yards) the Cardinals would kick a 30 yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
Saints 4th Drive: The Saints next drive would be dominated by the passing game again. Mark Brunell would take the offense from the Saints 20 to the Cardinals 3 in just five plays. The Cardinals stuffed the run again but Brunell would connect on three passes for 77 yards. The biggest completion took the Saints to the 3 when Aaron Francisco couldn't seem to find the ball in the air and Robert Meachem brought down a 49 yard completion. The Saints would ultimately get shut down on the goal line though and after a couple of runs, a pass and a false start penatly, they failed to punch it in on fourth and goal from the one. Ali Highsmith was the first defender to hit the ball carrier on fourth down but a host of Cardinals took him down including Francisco.
Cards 4th Drive: The Cardinals would get the ball one more time in the first half with 2:27 left on the clock, but they'd have to start from the one. Brian St. Pierre would bring the offense out midfield before the clock expired with a combination of decent scrambles (2 carries for 15 yards) and several passes. He completed three short passes to Breaston, Urban and Morey but couldn't get a pass over 10 yards.
Ultimately it's hard to get too excited or too disappointed with the first half. The offense looked decent but the defense didn't answer many of the questions that we had going into the game. I was encouraged by Leinart's confidence in the pocket and Hightower's quickness, but the offensive line didn't do much to inspire confidence. The stories about Steve Breaston being improved as a receiver certainly seem to ring true. As for the defense, the first drive was pretty brutal and they'll have to play better against top offenses if they want to be a good defense. The Saints are pretty good at keeping Brees upright though (just 16 sacks last season) and they got pressure on him at least once during that drive (Chike's pressure led to the only imcompletion). Adrian Wilson and Chike certainly looked healthy and Wilson had a nice play when he shut down Bush behind the line for a one yard loss. So what did you guys think about the first units? Impressed with Leinart or want to see more before you feel comfortable?