1. Swarming defense: I expect the Saints’ defense to be extremely fired up and aggressive early in this game with the home crowd behind it for the first time. For one thing, that’s the defense’s personality in general – and fiery pass-rushers like Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks are all eager to register their first preseason sack. More importantly, the Saints didn’t force any turnovers last week at St. Louis, something they’re adamant about changing. Coach Sean Payton mentioned the lack of turnovers in his opening statement following last week’s game. Takeaways have been the No. 1 point of emphasis for the defense all offseason after New Orleans struggled in that area last year. I expect to see at least two of them tonight.
2. Quarterback competition: With Drew Brees expected to sit out for the second straight week with a strained oblique, the spotlight will once again fall on the two guys vying to be his backup – second-year pro Ryan Griffin and veteran Luke McCown. The Saints haven’t announced the pecking order yet, but I’d guess that Griffin will get the chance to start since McCown started last week. And it’s vital for the Saints to see if Griffin is ready to be the No. 2 guy. As I’ve said all offseason, if Griffin can prove he’s mature enough, his long-term potential will give him the tiebreaker over McCown. Last week, Griffin had a terrific performance, giving him the early edge in this battle. A strong performance tonight could help cement it.
3. Cooks … and other receivers: You should watch Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks tonight simply for the pure enjoyment. So far the dynamic speedster has provided “wow” moments on an almost-daily basis in practices and the preseason opener. However, it’s the other receivers vying for backup roles that really need some of those “wow” moments of their own. Nick Toon, Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan are all vying for the fourth and fifth receiver jobs. Toon has had the most impressive camp so far, but all three were quiet in last week's game. Like Griffin, Toon’s long-term potential gives him a slight edge. But he needs to prove he’s as consistent and reliable as Meachem, whom the Saints have been able to depend on for years as a blocker/deep threat.