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Five good questions with Canal Street Chronicles: Oline major weak area for Saints

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Ahead of the Raiders season opener in New Orleans, we speak get the scoop from a writer who covers them exclusively.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Here to help fill in the gaps on getting you ready to watch the Raiders season opener against the Saints is Jean-Rene Ella from SB Nation Saints blog, Canal Street Chronicles. He answers my five questions this week.

1. With Drew Brees's numbers having gone down across the board each of the past four seasons, what can we honestly expect to see from him this year at the age of 37?

This is as good a question as it is intriguing. Have Brees’ numbers really gone down across the board over the past four years or are people thinking so because the Saints have gone 7-9 in each of the past two seasons? Here are some of Brees’ important numbers in the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons respectively:

Touchdowns/Interceptions: 43/19; 39/12; 33/17; 32/11

Interception %: 2.8; 1.8; 2.6; 1.8

Yards per attempt: 7.73; 7.94; 7.51; 7.77

QB Rating: 96.3; 104.7; 97.0; 101.0

Completion %: 63.0 ;68.6; 69.2; 68.3

So, if I take off my Black-and-Gold glasses, it seems to me that the only number that has steadily gone down over the past four years is Brees’ touchdown passes, while the other stats are pretty consistent.

I haven’t included the number of yards each of the last four seasons, which in my opinion is inflated by the volume-passing of Sean Payton’s offense. But with the high number of passes Brees throws, it’s amazing to see how consistently high his completion percentage has remained. Which leads me to believe that we can expect Brees once more to deliver and be quite effective in Payton’s offense, which really uses the quick-passing game like an extension of the running game. If the Saints can afford Brees even the semblance of an actual running game to keep defenses honest, he could play at this high a level for another two to three years.

2. We know that Brees is the straw that stirs the drink in New Orleans, but what of that drink? What does he have to work with in terms of weapons on offense?

This year, the Saints have both rebuilt and reloaded on offense. Gone is tight end Benjamin Watson, who had a career year in 2015 with Drew Brees throwing him the ball. Now’s it’s former Colt Coby Fleener’s turn to try and maximize his yet-to-blossom talent by catching passes from Brees.

Joining Fleener in the pass-catching corps will be Brandin Cooks, who is coming off a 1138-yard/9 touchdowns in his second season as an NFL wide receiver, and Willie Snead who came out of nowhere (aka Cleveland) last season as an undrafted free agent receiver to catch 69 passes for 984 yards and three touchdowns. Finally, rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas out of Ohio State has turned some heads in the preseason and will be a tall target for Brees as he’s striving to become the next Marques Colston in the Saints’ offense.

The running game is nothing to brag about, but Mark Ingram is a serviceable NFL running back and at times, he’ll remind people that he was actually drafted in the first round. If you want to feel better about Sunday though, the Saints’ offensive line has had an absolutely miserable preseason. Since Brees can’t possibly complete 68% of his passes while on his back, this is going to be the offensive unit to watch (not in a good way) for the Saints as the 2016 season begins.

3. The Saints were as bipolar as it gets in 2015 with the league's second best offense and the league's worst defense. It was the same story in 2014. Are there any indications they will be more balanced this year? How does Dennis Allen's factor into that?

Allen promised a more simplified defense. One where players have to think less, which should allow them to read and react more. Thus, less busted coverages, less miscommunication on the field, and the result should be a better defense. Yay! I feel better all of a sudden.

The truth is, the Saints simply have drafted horribly for quite a few years now, and even more so on the defensive side of the ball. The 2015 and 2016 drafts look to be slightly better, but since the 2009 Super Bowl win, there has been a steady decline in talent on New Orleans’ defensive unit. Here’s what we’re hanging on to as Saints fans: when you’re 32nd in the league, you have nowhere to go but up!

4. Sean Payton said the idea that Allen would have any inside knowledge on Derek Carr is "overrated". Would you agree with that or do you think he has an advantage having coached Carr for a short time as a rookie?

Completely overrated in my opinion. It’s been quite a while now since Allen was lining his defense up against a completely green Derek Carr. Moreover, Carr has steadily improved since 2014 and with positive development come better habits, so any “bad” tendencies that Allen might have noticed from Carr a few years ago have likely been fixed by now. If the Saints can stymie the Raiders’ offense, it’ll be because they play attacking, yet sound defense against Carr and crew, and take advantage of the noise in the Superdome. Home-field is really going to be the main advantage for the Saints defensively on Sunday, not any knowledge of Carr by Allen.

5. Give me one lesser known player on each side of the ball who figures to be a factor for the Saints in this game.

On defense, second-year cornerback P.J. Williams figures to play quite a role (either in favor or to the detriment of the Saints). Williams, who was drafted in the third round last year out of Florida State is a gamer, but he was also hurt all of last season. Having won the number two starting cornerback position opposite Delvin Breaux this offseason, Williams will be thrown in the fire and make his very first NFL start in a regular season game on Sunday. Needless to say that the Raiders and Derek Carr will be throwing his way early and often Sunday afternoon.

On offense, the aforementioned Willie Snead. The Raiders will want to make sure that the speedy Brandin Cooks doesn’t beat them over the top and rookie Mike Thomas doesn’t figure to see too many targets just yet until Brees fully trusts him. Sean Payton will make sure to keep Oakland’s linebackers busy with Coby Fleener on intermediate seam routes and C.J. Spiller on wheel routes out of the backfield. So in the slot, Willie Snead (who was targeted 101 times by Brees last year) will be the guy who catches those frustrating third and 5, third and three, third and six and moves the chains against your nickel cornerback. He’s a guy poised for a season in which he truly announces himself as one of those pesky, diminutive NFL slot receivers that defenses hate and quarterbacks absolutely love.

To see my answers to his questions, click here: