NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 2 NO at STL

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
11:45
PM ET
ST. LOUIS --While St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam is the late-round draft pick from Missouri garnering most of the attention, it was the one taken a round before him that found himself around the ball for most of the night.

Of course, cornerback E.J. Gaines was also the one on the wrong end of Brandin Cooks' touchdown catch and run that ultimately gave the New Orleans Saints a 26-24 victory Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome.

With cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee not playing, sixth-round pick Gaines got the start at corner and acquitted himself well with that one notable exception. He was a solid tackler and mostly sticky in coverage before Cooks juked him in the open field for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Here are some other thoughts on the Rams' first preseason game:
  • With a little more than five minutes to go in the first quarter, Sam got his first taste of an NFL game. Sam replaced Chris Long at left defensive end and played the rest of the first half and part of the second. Along the way, Sam had some good moments including a tackle on Saints running back Khiry Robinson for no gain and a pressure that forced an incompletion in the second quarter. Beyond his defensive duties, Sam also worked on the kick block and kick return units on special teams.
  • Without the services of quarterback Sam Bradford, left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells, all of whom didn't play as expected, the Rams starting offense, such as it was, got off to a strong start and staked the Rams to a halftime lead. Shaun Hill, starting in place of Bradford, showed why the Rams coveted him in free agency with a nearly flawless outing. Hill played the bulk of the first half and finished his evening 5-of-7 for 84 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 151.2.
  • Gaines was one of the few Rams defenders who was consistently solid as a tackler Friday night. Like most teams in the preseason, tackling is an issue but the Rams appeared particularly shoddy, especially in the first half. Linebackers Ray-Ray Armstrong, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Phillip Steward and safety Cody Davis had clear misses that resulted in big gains for Saints running backs. New Orleans back Mark Ingram scored on a 22-yard touchdown run after a clear Davis miss in the second quarter.
  • Neither team used many of their starters so the majority of the game was played by backups. Beyond Bradford, Long, Wells, Jenkins and Johnson the Rams also were missing projected starter at linebacker in James Laurinaitis, the offensive line in Rodger Saffold and defensive tackle in Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. The good news is the few starters who did play didn't seem to have any noticeable injury issues though tight end Cory Harkey did come off with an apparent hand injury.

No Drew Brees? No problem.

The New Orleans Saints found plenty of offensive firepower Friday in their 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- most of it provided by running back Mark Ingram and receiver Brandin Cooks.

It wasn't a perfect night by any stretch. Both first-string units had a few hiccups. But the Saints will feel especially good about the way they ran the ball, even without Brees and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' first preseason game of the year:
  • I couldn't help but think of the way Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief compared the speed of these playmakers Ingram and Cooks the other day. Strief said Ingram has the kind of speed where you know he's running hard, like a freight train once he gets going. Meanwhile, Cooks has smooth, natural speed that barely looks like it requires any effort.

    Well, both methods made the Rams defense miss Friday night. Ingram broke several tackles en route to 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. And Cooks torched a pair of defensive backs with a nasty cut in the open field on a 25-yard touchdown. Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards.

    Fellow Saints running back Khiry Robinson also ran well, with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Among the guys who provided standout blocks were linemen Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Senio Kelemete, Jason Weaver, Thomas Welch and tight end Benjamin Watson.
  • Ryan Griffin won the first round of the backup-QB battle by a landslide. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and did OK, but his night was marred by an ill-advised interception into the arms of blitzing defensive end Chris Long.

    Griffin, meanwhile, continued to show the poise and maturity he's been displaying all summer while completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Although Cooks got deserved credit for that touchdown catch, Griffin deserves just as much for absorbing a huge hit as he threw the ball under pressure.
  • Thumbs up: Backup defensive end Tyrunn Walker was outstanding with one sack and at least three other tackles for loss. At one point he made back-to-back run stuffs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. ... Glenn Foster, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson Jr. and rookie linebackers Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt all stood out for at least one sack or tackle for loss. ... Don't sleep on linebacker Kyle Knox as a roster hopeful. He started on all four special teams, along with tight end Josh Hill and linebacker Kevin Reddick. ... Hill had a big night on offense, too, doing his best Jimmy Graham impression with two catches for 67 yards.
  • Thumbs down: Kicker Shayne Graham isn't a fan of the NFL's 33-yard extra point experiment. He missed one, bouncing it off the left upright. Both Graham and Derek Dimke made matching 37-yard field goals, though. ... Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste got burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He's better in bump-and-run, but he never jammed the receiver and never turned to locate the ball. ... The entire Saints defense got burned on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter when no one covered tight end Cory Harkey. ... Cornerbacks Rod Sweeting and Brian Dixon also got beat for big plays in the fourth quarter. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman dropped two passes, one of which was intercepted. ... The Saints' third-string offensive line struggled, especially rookie tackle Tavon Rooks.
As expected, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was held out of Friday night's preseason opener at the St. Louis Rams.

Brees has been resting a strained oblique for the past week, though he has increased his workload off to the side during practice each day -- including a throwing session with safety Jairus Byrd before Friday's game, according to observers at the Edward Jones Dome.

Saints coach Sean Payton has never specified a timetable for Brees' return, other than to describe him as "day to day." But Payton said he did not believe the injury would jeopardize the start of the regular season.

Running back Pierre Thomas also did not dress for Friday's game, which was more of a surprise since he practiced all week. The reason for his absence is unknown. The Saints haven't offered many injury details during training camp since they aren't required to.

The others who weren't dressed for Friday's game, according to reports from The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, were expected after they missed practice time leading up to the game: guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, receivers Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner, fullback Erik Lorig, tight end Je'Ron Hamm, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, Byrd, cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Victor Butler and defensive tackle John Jenkins.

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