If the Saints wind up returning to playoff contention in 2013, they'll be able to point to the preseason as the first signs of progress upon coach Sean Payton's return from the bounty suspension that banished him from the league in 2012
New Orleans is 2-0 after jumping out to a 23-0 lead against Oakland on Friday night and surviving a sloppy second half by its reserves to hold on for a 28-20 victory.
"We felt like we were in complete control," quarterback Drew Brees said of the first half. "That's what you want when the starters are out there."
Payton expressed disappointment in New Orleans' three turnovers and six penalties in the second half, which helped Oakland to pull as close as 23-20.
But Payton's problems pale in comparison to what his former assistant, Dennis Allen, has to rectify in his second season in Oakland.
The Raiders looked lost for much of the first half, including a 15-play stretch in which the offense netted 1 yard.
Allen's defense, meanwhile, struggled to stay with New Orleans' high-powered offense.
Here are five things we learned while watching Brees and Co. control the first half against the Raiders:
1. CRISP BREES: Brees completed 78 percent (14 of 18) of his passes, demonstrating fine touch and accuracy on short and long throws alike. He perfectly lofted a swing pass to Darren Sproles. His 56-yard strike to Nick Toon hit the receiver in stride. He also threaded a pair of hard throws to Stills, one for a TD while scrambling left. He racked up 202 yards passing in only five series and was not intercepted.
2. PROTECTION WOES: Not only did the Raiders give up seven sacks, they also struggled to run, which cost them a safety in the fourth quarter. Flynn was under constant pressure and sacked five times. None of that bodes well for the offensive line, even if Allen said the quarterbacks share the some blame for not getting the ball out quickly enough.
"It was just a lack of communication and execution and we just can't let it happen," Flynn said.
3. DEFENSIVE DEVELOPMENT: Saints defenders say they enjoy playing for new coordinator Rob Ryan, and the results have been encouraging. After allowing only one offensive TD and 185 net yards against Oakland (which scored its other touchdown on defense), the Saints' defense has allowed only two touchdowns and 400 yards through two preseason games. Against Oakland, undrafted rookie defensive end Glenn Foster had two sacks, while inside linebacker Ramon Humber, outside linebacker Will Smith, safety Roman Harper and defensive ends Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks each had one.
4. KEEPING CALM: As ragged as their performance looked, the Raiders expressed confidence in their ability to improve by the regular season.
"The difference between moving the ball and not moving the ball is just so small," Flynn said. "There are just some things we have to clean up. We know we can do a lot better."
Even former Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, who left the game early with a right groin pull, downplayed the significance of the Raiders' defense yielding 240 yards in the first half alone.
"That's why you play these preseason games, because you know coming in you are going to make mistakes," Porter said. "It wasn't like we are almost to the season. Tonight was the second preseason game, so we have a lot of time to learn."
5. NEW HANDS: Brees will need some unproven receivers to emerge this season and was encouraged by the performances of rookie Kenny Stills and virtual rookie Nick Toon, who was drafted a year ago but never played while on injured reserve.
Toon, who had four receptions for 66 yards last week, added a 56-yard reception deep down field against the Raiders.
"I definitely think my speed is something that's been overlooked," said Toon, son of former NFL All-Pro receiver Al Toon. "It was a great opportunity to go out there and show everybody that I can run."
Stills snagged his 16-yard TD while leaning out of bounds and tapping his toes down in play. He finished with four catches for 64 yards.
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