The season begins Sunday in New Orleans for the Raiders and the Saints. To get you prepared, here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Kill the noise
It’s going to be loud in the Superdome as it usually is. The crowd will attempt to make the difference in this one by making life difficult for the Raiders’ offense to function efficiently. That means limiting audibles and trying to force timeouts and false starts and delay of game penalties. Derek Carr probably didn’t help things this week when he said of the crowd noise “the louder the better”. The Superdome is a tough place to play. When the Saints are a good team, they simply do not lose there. The only way to shut them up is to keep putting points on the board. But then, that’s kinda always the objective.
For some time now, playing against the Raiders has been a breeze for Drew Brees. Last time they met in 2012, Brees and the Saints sailed to a 38-17 victory. In fact, he has beaten the Raiders the past six times he’s played them, dating back to 2003 when he was with the Chargers. Not coincidentally, the Raiders have been terrible much of the past 13 years. They will be looking for some winds of change this season; starting Sunday. The newly rebuilt secondary led by free agent additions Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson will be tested. Brees has seen his passing yards and touchdowns passes go down each of the past four seasons and is now 37 years old. Then again, his completion percentage (68.3) and passer rating (101.0) last season were still as high as ever and he just signed a new extension with the team.
Stop the run
Something the Raiders haven’t done much of this preseason is stopping the run. The Saints don’t hang their hats on the run game, but they don’t need to. They use it enough to keep the defense honest and Mark Ingram is a fairly good running back, averaging 4.6 yards per carry last season. With the Saints’ powerful passing offense, the Raiders can’t sellout to stop the run, nor should they. But if they aren’t able to stop it, there’s no doubt the Saints will keep going back to it. After all, it’s in the Saints best interest to control the ball and keep their defense off the field because...
Saints defense still sucks
Every offseason, the fans see a team replace players and fill holes with new players and automatically think those additions will turn everything around. I am not seeing that with the Saints defense.
We all know that good teams are built primarily through the draft. The Saints went about shoring up their defensive tackle position with their first round pick, Sheldon Rankins. He broke his fibula this preseason and was placed on injured reserve.
The other starting jobs the team went about filling in free agency. James Laurinaitis was signed to play middle linebacker. He was released by the Rams this offseason after a 2015 season in which PFF graded him as the second worst inside linebacker out of 60 named. So, yeah, he may not be the answer. Dannell Ellerbe was to start at weakside linebacker, but he’s out with injury as well. Basically, I am trying to figure out where the upgrade is supposed to be on this league worst unit? Dennis Allen? Come on.
Coby Fleener vs ???
Hey, remember that whole “Raiders can’t stop a tight end” thing from last season? Well, the Saints love to use the tight end. They’ve had a few good ones over the years, but mostly whenever they get a decent one, he puts up great numbers in this offense. That tight end is Coby Fleener, who has been more than decent over the past three seasons in Indianapolis, averaging 52 catches for 624 yards and 5 touchdowns per season.
Last season the Raiders defense was getting destroyed by tight ends early one. Losing Nate Allen to injury didn’t help matters. They seemed to find the answer by midseason in Neiron Ball, but he was soon lost to injury and now is on injured reserve. I would expect the duties of covering Fleener will be split between the linebackers and safeties.
Willie Snead vs DJ Hayden
Alright, DJ, you have the slot receiver job. Now, let’s see how you perform against a slot receiver in Snead who was targeted over 100 time last season and put up nearly 1000 yards. Snead is a primary third down target. It will be up to Hayden to try and keep their third down conversion rate down. Otherwise the Saints will just matriculate down the field, taking what they want all day.