METAIRIE, La. For Rob Ryan, New Orleans' middle two preseason games couldn't have provided a better set of tests to see where the Saints were in regard to stopping some of the league's different offensive schemes.
Against Oakland on Aug. 16, it was the zone-read.
At 3 o'clock today against Houston, it'll be the stretch run scheme the Texans employ with physical precision.
'That's definitely something we want to focus on,' Ryan said. 'They've got one of the top offenses in football.'
But this third preseason game is much more than identifying offenses or defenses. It's a dress rehearsal for the regular season, the preseason game closest to the real thing. First-team players will see their most game repetitions of preseason.
For New Orleans, it also comes against a top opponent, one of the best teams from the AFC.
'Oh, definitely,' running back Pierre Thomas said. 'They have good upfront guys and they play that 3-4 defense and something that we have been matched up against in practice and we are going to prepare ourselves for it.'
Not everyone will see the field. Martez Wilson, Junior Galette, Chris Chamberlain and Jed Collins are all scratches. Jon Vilma, Marques Colston and Will Herring will be game-time decisions.
Still, coach Sean Payton has an idea what he wants to get out of this particular game.
'Just consistency,' Payton said. 'Getting ahead of the downs. There were some positives about last week's performance in regards to the running game and yet when you look at the tape there is some yardage left out there that we just have to look to clean up and become more efficient with.'
Houston's offense is No. 2 currently in the NFL, averaging 427 yards per game this preseason. That includes 122.5 rushing yards per contest. It's has scored more than 26 points per game so far.
The defense, meanwhile, is holding teams to just 3.38 yards per carry and 5.9 yards per pass, good for 12th- and 10th-best in the NFL. And it's No. 3 in the league in two preseason games in sacks per pass play, getting the quarterback down 15.87 percent of the time.
'We've played two games already and two teams that are trying to build something,' Payton said. 'We're playing a team that we've known pretty well just because we played them in the preseason, practiced against them and really watched them get better during the last seven years. I think that's the No. 1 thing we have an opportunity to gain from this.'