Mc­Clain: While of­fense was go­ing nowhere, the de­fense more than held its own.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - john.mc­clain@chron.com twitter.com/mc­clain_on_nfl

NEW OR­LEANS — The best thing about the Tex­ans’ per­for­mance against the Saints was the con­tin­ued ex­cel­lence of their de­fense.

With the starters in the game and even af­ter the back­ups re­placed them in the sec­ond quar­ter, the Tex­ans did a ter­rific job against quar­ter­back Drew Brees and his ex­plo­sive of­fense in the Su­per­dome.

That’s no sur­prise, of course, con­sid­er­ing the Tex­ans fin­ished first in de­fense last sea­son. With the re­turn of end J.J. Watt and cor­ner­back Kevin John­son, the de­fense is good enough to fin­ish first again.

Last sea­son, New Or­leans fin­ished first in of­fense and first in pass­ing, but it was hard to tell Satur­day night. Yes, it was a pre­sea­son game, but it was the most im­por­tant pre­sea­son game, and the de­fense was out­stand­ing against Brees.

Af­ter the of­fense played so well last week in the vic­tory over New Eng­land, it was sur­pris­ing the Tex­ans looked so bad on that side of the ball against a New Or­leans de­fense that isn’t sup­posed to be any­thing spe­cial this sea­son.

With the of­fense strug­gling and cross­ing mid­field once with Tom Sav­age at quar­ter­back — reach­ing the Saints’ 49 but fin­ish­ing on its side of the field — the de­fense ex­celled against Brees and his plethora of re­ceivers. One se­ries for Clowney, Watt

With Brees in the game, the Saints got a 26-yard field goal and led 3-0 at the half.

Watt and out­side line­backer Jade­veon Clowney played one se­ries and didn’t break a sweat. Coach Bill O’Brien wisely de­ter­mined Watt and Clowney are bet­ter off saving it for the first game of the reg­u­lar sea­son against Jack­sonville on Sept. 10.

The Tex­ans played of­fense like they’re saving it for the Jaguars, too.

They were shut out in the first half and looked bad in the process.

On the other side of the ball, Mike Vra­bel’s de­fense ap­peared to be in reg­u­lar-sea­son form. With Brees play­ing most of the first half, the Saints had five pos­ses­sions, and the Tex­ans al­lowed a field goal.

Brees played un­til re­tir­ing for the night with less than two min­utes left in the first half. Play­ing against the Tex­ans’ starters and sec­ond team, Brees com­pleted 11of-15 for 76 yards.

With Brees in the game, the Saints com­piled 124 yards, in­clud­ing 48 rush­ing.

The Tex­ans threw a net over run­ning back Adrian Peter­son, who came off the bench be­hind starter Mark In­gram. Peter­son car­ried six times for 15 yards.

Brees’ fa­vorite, sec­ond-year re­ceiver Michael Thomas, had four catches for 24 yards.

With Watt and Clowney serv­ing as cheer­lead­ers, the Tex­ans didn’t get a lot of pres­sure on Brees, but their cov­er­age was ex­cel­lent. Tight cov­er­age on third down plays re­sulted in com­ple­tions and punts.

The only time New Or­leans scored was on its sec­ond se­ries.

Brees took over at their 33. He com­pleted six passes to take the Saints to the Tex­ans’ 8, where he threw in­com­plete on third down. Wil Lutz’s 26-yard field goal ac­counted for all the scor­ing in the first half. Vra­bel should be pleased

It didn’t seem to mat­ter who was on the field for the Tex­ans be­cause just about ev­ery­one did the kind of job that’ll make the hardto-please Vra­bel happy when he watches the tape.

While O’Brien and the of­fense coaches are go­ing to be spew­ing four-let­ter words when an­a­lyz­ing their side of the ball, the de­fense can take a lot of pride in its per­for­mance against Brees as well as a Saints’ run­ning game that fea­tures In­gram, a 1,000-yard rusher last sea­son, and should be im­proved with the ad­di­tions of Peter­son and rookie Alvin Ka­mara.

The Tex­ans’ de­fense was so ef­fec­tive against Brees and the Saints’ of­fense that New Or­leans crossed mid­field once on the field goal drive.

Out­side line­backer Bren­nan Scar­lett, who re­placed Clowney on the sec­ond se­ries, led the team with seven tack­les in the first half. Cor­ner­back Kareem Jack­son was sec­ond with five.

The Tex­ans played smart, sound de­fense that didn’t pro­duce big plays other than in pass cov­er­age and against the run, but it was enough to get the job done against one of the best quar­ter­backs in the league.

Their per­for­mance showed again that the of­fense seems des­tined to strug­gle, and the Tex­ans will go as far as their de­fense can take them.

Brett Coomer / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees (9) looked ready for the reg­u­lar sea­son, while the Tex­ans of­fense strug­gled to find its rhythm.

JOHN Mc­CLAIN

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