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Raiders vs. Saints: Area of Concern

Andy Dalton, New Orleans offense packs quite the punch

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t afraid to fire the ball deep downfield for big plays. Yet, his aggressiveness has lead to both touchdowns and interceptions.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of folk thought the New Orleans Saints would hold the cards close their vest regarding the starting quarterback for this Sunday’s clash against the visiting Las Vegas Raiders.

Would it be Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston? Would the Saints keep it a secret until kickoff for competitive advantage?

Then, suddenly, just after noon on Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news New Orleans is going to trot out Dalton to face the incoming Raiders. So much for that mystery. Despite the Saints quarterback quandary going in, the New Orleans’ offense can still pack quite a punch.

The team has scored 175 points this season — good for seventh in the league — for an average of 25 points per game in the seven games they’ve played. The Saints racked up a total of 2,788 yards which gives them the third overall ranking in the league, and an average of 398.28 yards per game. Breaking the offense down by passing and rushing attacks, New Orleans is ranked eighth and sixth in air yards and touchdowns (1,794 and 12) and sport the eighth and ninth ranked rushing yards and touchdowns (994 and eight) in the league.

Add into the mix Dalton’s career 3-0 mark against the Raiders and if Las Vegas isn’t dialed in, the Red Rifle could wallop the Silver & Black in The Big Easy. Dalton is 42 of 65 (64.62 completion percentage) for 487 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in his career against the Raiders. He’s only been sacked twice by Raider defenders and sports a 112.8 quarterback rating.

Dalton has running back Alvin Kamara (77 carries, 351 yards, 24 receptions, 191 yards) at his disposal, a tailback who can both run the ball inside and out and run routes and provide a reliable target out of the backfield. The quarterback has wide receiver Chris Ovale (39 catches, 495 yards, two touchdowns) and athletic tight end Juwan Johnson (19 catches, 202 yards, two scores) to throw to, too. New Orleans can also line up Taysom Hill (29 carries, 276 yards, five touchdowns) under center or in the shotgun as well. Facing the Raiders’ 26th ranked scoring defense and 24th ranked yards given up defense, New Orleans is likely going to to try every avenue to take advantage of that.

Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham expects nothing less, considering the plethora of weaponry New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has to work with.

“That adds a level of difficulty, absolutely. He’s one of those like, ‘Where’s Waldo’ guys,” Graham said of Hill. “Each week there is somebody like that usually on each team, so you got to have an understanding of, ‘okay, there he is. He’s on the field.’ And then you got to be able to execute from there. We got the idea, he’s on the field, we know where he’s at and then from there can we execute the plan?

“So, there is usually somebody like that on the field for each team, and he’s definitely one of the guys on this team along with a few other guys. You got to know where Kamara is, you got to know where a lot of these guys are. They are really skilled on offense.”

NFL: Houston Texans at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders safety Duron Harmon outraces the Houston Texans offense for a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What can help the Raiders, though, is Dalton’s aggressiveness makes him equal parts Red Rifle and Red Stifle. While he did throw four touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, Dalton also misfired for three interceptions. Granted, one was a throw that ricocheted off a receivers hands up into the air for a pick six, it’s an interception nonetheless. Las Vegas, however, is second to last (31st) in takeaways but Dalton should provide Graham’s defense opportunities to take the ball away. The Raiders also increased their pressure-packages via blitz and that could come into play this Sunday.

“It comes into play in terms of what we think is best for the game plan that week and then what we feel comfortable doing,” Graham said. “The more games we play together, the more games I call with the group, we are going to grow more and more comfortable. And just keep going back to it, practice execution becomes game reality. What we are practicing, that’s what we are trying to do out there in the field.”

Then, there’s the old adage: The best defense is a good offense. Las Vegas can limit New Orleans possessions by sustained and punishing offensive drives by executing their downhill rushing attack featuring Josh Jacobs. No. 28’s running style wears down the opposing defense and if that’s sustained, the Raiders can control both the line of scrimmage and time of possession, both all-important categories.

The Saints defense is second to last (31st) in points allowed (200) and 14th in yards yielded (2,383). Their run defense is susceptible giving up 862 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 21st and 16th rankings, respectively. And that’s one of the big reason New Orleans is 2-5 overall: A top seven scoring offense saddled with the 31st overall scoring defense.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Raiders sport the No. 3 overall scoring offense and the No. 26 scoring defense.

Oh, and one final thing: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is 2-0 all-time against the Saints. He’s 52 of 76 (68.42 completion percentage) for 603 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s been sacked three times and sports a quarterback rating of 109.7.

One quarterback — Dalton or Carr — is going to get the first notch in the loss column this Sunday.