Coming off a dismal performance in the first quarter against Jacksonville, the Saints first-team defense was looking for redemption on Saturday night against the Houston Texans in the Superdome. Instead, it looked lost for the second consecutive game.
This one was more understandable. The Saints played without injured starting linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Lofton's replacement, Jonathan Casillas, played middle linebacker for the first time in his NFL career. Plus, QB Matt Schaub and the Texans torched the Saints for 473 yards and 33 points in the regular season last year.
The Texans went 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown on their opening possession. They drove 40 yards in five plays for a TD on their second series and finished the half with 24 points and 233 yards.
New Orleans rallied to win 34-27, but Schaub and the first-team Houston offense were done by halftime.
Schaub was nearly flawless, completing 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards.
“Let me tell you something, this is a good offense we played tonight,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “They have an outstanding running game that complements their passing game. Give credit to them. I give credit to our guys. Down 14 early, they forced a couple of turnovers. Our guys competed.”
To a man, the Saints stressed the positives. Rookie cornerback Corey White and safety Malcolm Jenkins forced fumbles from Houston WR KeShawn Martin. CB Patrick Robinson broke up two passes in one-one-one coverage with Andre Johnson. DE Cam Jordan had a sack, two tackles for loss and a pressure in the first half.
“Their first 15 plays are the best in the league,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “We understand that. They caught us off guard, but we did a decent job once we settled down into the flow of the game.”
Side by side: Vitt and soon-to-be-interim coach Aaron Kromer stood next to each other on the sideline as Kromer prepared to take over when Vitt begins serving a six-week bounty-related suspension at the start of the regular season.
Kromer was named the interim coach on Wednesday. The Texans game was his first dress rehearsal for the season opener against Washington on Sept. 9.
“We did the right thing naming (Kromer) with two weeks of preseason left,” Saints QB Drew Brees said. “It gives us a chance to work the kinks out.”
Fumbling, stumbling: WR Joe Morgan, trying to claim one of the last spots on the 53-man roster, hurt his case with a fumble in the second quarter. After catching a quick hitch from Brees, he tried a blind spin to the outside instead of running inside. That didn't work, and after being held up, he lost the ball on the way down. The Texans recovered at the New Orleans 10, although the Saints argued unsuccessfully that Morgan's forward progress had been stopped before he fumbled.
Morgan used the same spin move in the third quarter, turning a short pass into a 20-yard gain.
“It's a good lesson for him,” said Brees, who described Morgan as “raw” earlier in the week. “Later in the game, he caught the exact same pass, did the exact same thing and converted it into a big play. He's got the speed to make something happen when he gets outside, but obviously turnovers are something you have to avoid.”
RB Chris Ivory, who has fumbled a few too many times in practice, coughed one up after a hard hit in the first quarter. He was checked for a concussion on the sideline and sent to the locker room for observation, but he returned quickly, finishing with a team-high 57 yards on 8 carries.
Ivory, who led the Saints in rushing in 2010, may not be in any danger. If Travaris Cadet, an impressive undrafted rookie, pushes his way on to the roster, it could be at the expense of a sixth receiver. Cadet entered with 19 receptions for 171 yards in the preseason and only 51 rushing yards on 18 carries. He added three catches for 31 yards against the Texans.
This and that: The Saints and Texans combined for 73 points and 927 yards in a wild 40-33 New Orleans win at the Superdome last year. The score at the half on Saturday was 24-24, so they combined for 121 points three consecutive halves against each other. … Saints inactives were CB Jabari Greer (groin), RB Darren Sproles (sore knee), Lofton (high ankle sprain), Hawthorne (meniscus), LB Ramon Humber (hamstring), WR Adrian Arrington (meniscus), DT Tom Johnson (ankle), WR Andy Tanner (ankle) and CB Kamall McIlwain (groin).
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on twitter @CBSSportsNFLNO.