From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / August 24, 1999

Well at least the first drive was a thing of beauty.

For the first couple of minutes Saturday night, Saints fans truly had something to cheer about. Their team drove 90 yards in 11 plays on theirfirst possession to take a 7-0 lead as Troy Davis scored from 2 yards out.

The defense then held Peyton Manning and the Colts offense to three and out.

The fans could have gone home at that point because it sure appeared the defense did. Two penalties on the ensuing punt was an indication to come.On the next possession, Manning found Marvin Harrison wide open behind the Saints’ defense for a 33-yard score. Edgerrin James then took over,scoring twice as the Colts took a 31-7 halftime lead on their way to a 37- 7 victory.

Yes, it was just an exhibition game and a month from now, we would probably have forgotten all about it. And yes, a number of Saints starters,including Ricky Williams, Billy Joe Hobert, Brady Smith and Joe Johnson, did not play. It wasn’t that the Saints loss a meaningless game that wasdisturbing. It was the way they lost it.What was troublesome was how slow the Saints looked compared to the Colts. This was an Indianapolis team that was 3-13 last season. But therewere the Colts consistently beating the Saints defenders to the corners.

Here were the Colts pass rush easily beating the Saints blockers.

Here was an Indianapolis team that had been struggling offensively in the preseason, especially with its running game. James was playing in hisfirst game after missing most of camp with a holdout. Yet, after that firstseries, the defense could not contain either James or the Colts. James ranfor 77 yards or just three yards fewer than Indianapolis had rushed for in its first two preseason games without him. Imagine if he had played theentire game.

The Saints offensive line looked good on the first series, helping Davis look like Terrell Davis for a couple of minutes, and then disappeared.

While he was in there, Danny Wuerffel spent most of the time on his back through no fault of his own. How do you throw when your line cannot stop asimple rush up the middle? Billy Joe Tolliver started hot, completing all four of his passes on the opening drive and then went cold, hitting on just three of his next eight. Itappears it will be either Hobert or bust for the Saints at the position this season.

The special teams, which were so good a year ago, were non-existent Saturday night. The Saints offense started drives at its 10-, 7- and 9-yardlines. Asking any offense to drive 90-plus yards is a daunting task. For anoffense that was without its major weapon (Williams) and starting quarterback (Hobert), it is downright ridiculous.

What Saturday night told the team was, that, while it was just an exhibition, the Saints still have a long way to go in the two weeks before they open the season against Carolina. The starters, especially on theoffensive line, must stay healthy, because this is a team that is definitely lacking in depth.

It’s a team that must make as few mental mistakes as possible because it is not close to being one of the most talented teams in the league.

Saints fans must hope that the mistakes of Saturday night are correctable.

Because if they are not, then while it was just an exhibition, it could be an exhibition of things to come.

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