NEW ORLEANS — For much of the exhibition season in the NFL, results don’t really matter.
Recognized players barely play, teams don’t game-plan for their opponents and coaches aren’t looking necessarily at the final score.
Tonight, though, when the New Orleans Saints host the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 7 p.m., disregard that concept.
This, according to players, is the closest thing you’ll get to the regular season before it starts in September.
“You want to get more of a game-type feel,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “You want to get your intensity going. You’re not going to look at it just like a preseason game where you’re just getting through it.”
Starters and first-team players will likely go for much, if not all of the first half. They’ll also be expected to play at least the first series out of the halftime break.
“We’ve got to see how we play for at least a good half and potentially coming out after halftime,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “Honestly, fighting to be a little more consistent. I think in the preseason, the more you play you want to look a little better. You want to feel like you’re heading into the season on the right path.”
The Saints have all but slogged through the past two preseason games, losing to both New England and Jacksonville.
There were issues in both games.
Against the Patriots, the Saints’ first-string offense produced two three-and-outs and appeared disoriented. They were better against the Jaguars, but still not where they wanted to be; quarterback Drew Brees was sacked and fumbled the ball away and there was still another short possession.
Meanwhile, the defense performed against New England. But against Jacksonville, it had issues tackling and shutting down the Jaguars, who scored two touchdowns and a field goal on three of their first four possessions.
But New Orleans being a team known for offense, there are areas that have lagged this preseason that have raised the coaching staff’s eyebrows.
The Saints are converting just 32.4 percent of third downs, going 12 of 37 overall on the down. That’s far below even the lowest percentage in the Sean Payton-era. In 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, New Orleans converted only 44.67 percent of third downs, sixth-best in the NFL that season and the lowest in the past six years for the teams.
That’s one area where offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. is looking to see a difference.
“Starting with me, I have to and we have to do a better job on third down,” Carmichael said. “It’s something that we’ve been historically good at the last couple years. That’s something I think we have to be better on; third down, finish drives and feel like we have some consistency going.”
Nevertheless, the Saints hadn’t prepared for the Patriots or Jaguars or even the Arizona Cardinals ahead of those games, working only on themselves.
Now that New Orleans has been through a week of regular-season style practices, acting head coach Joe Vitt is expecting more from his first-string.
The question is what exactly is he looking for against Houston.
“We have to it now,” Vitt said.