NFL Preseason Preview - New Orleans (2-0) at Houston (2-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Call it a dress rehearsal for a pair of teams with high hopes entering the 2013 season when the reigning AFC South champion Houston Texans welcome Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints to south Texas.
Drew Brees was in midseason form last week, leading five scoring drives for the Saints in the team's 28-20 win over Oakland. Brees was aided by the play of his two young wide receivers -- rookie Kenny Stills and second-year pro Nick Toon.
Brees finished 14-for-18 for 202 yards and a touchdown while Stills caught four balls for 64 yards and Toon added a big 56-yard reception.
"We asked them to do a lot," said Brees when asked about his young outside threats. "They did a great job adjusting to that and played with a lot of confidence."
Mark Ingram rushed nine times for 30 yards and a touchdown for New Orleans, which also edged the Chiefs, 17-13, in their preseason opener.
The Saints defense, which is transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 under newly appointed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, limited the Raiders to just 185 total yards and recorded seven sacks and a safety.
Houston, meanwhile, also improved to 2-0 in the preseason with a 24-17 win over Miami last week. The game featured the first action of the 2013 preseason for linebacker Brian Cushing, who is returning from a torn ACL, as well as J.J. Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"It felt good to be out there," said Watt. "It felt great to be in front of these fans. It's crazy how supportive they are. It was a packed house and so loud for the preseason. You've got to love it."
Quarterbacks Case Keenum, Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates each threw a touchdown apiece against the Dolphins.
Schaub started the game and went 8-for-11 for 92 yards with an interception, Keenum was 11-for-18 for 150 yards and Yates completed 7-of-9 passes for 84 yards for the Texans. Deji Karim ran a game-high nine times for 55 yards.
There was a downside to the game for Houston, however. The NFL suspended defensive end Antonio Smith for the 2013 regular-season opener for ripping the helmet off Miami guard Richie Incognito and throwing it back at him.
Smith will also be barred from participating in Houston's final two preseason contests as a result of the incident, which occurred during the second quarter. The eight-year veteran will be able to appeal the penalty. If his plea is denied, Smith will miss Houston's Week 1 matchup against San Diego on Sept. 8.
Smith and Incognito had a prior history of bad blood, with the former receiving a $21,000 fine that was later reduced to $11,000 by the league for kicking Incognito in last year's season opener. Smith later said the outburst was in retaliation for Incognito, who has a reputation for overaggressive play, attempting to deliberately injure him by twisting his ankle.
The Texans got some good news during the week when All-Pro running back Arian Foster was activated from the PUP list on Wednesday, with the hope he'll be ready to go when the team opens the regular season.
Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing champion who led the league with 17 total touchdowns last season, had been sidelined this preseason with a strained calf and soreness in his back.
Houston and New Orleans have met in each of the last five preseasons, with the Saints claiming three wins, including a 34-27 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last August 25.