The New Orleans Saints have won four of their last five games and seek their third win in a row today as they face the (3-5) Oakland Raiders in California.
“We’re 3-6 and we know in order to get to the playoffs we have to win ten games,” says Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer. “We have seven games left and we can’t drop another one. There is a tremendous amount of urgency and it started with Coach Allen after our loss to Baltimore. We’re an older team, we understand where we are and the point of the season we’re in. We understand what we’re up against, a very hot team in a very similar situation. We know we have to play our best football to win this game.”
It is also a reunion of sorts as Raiders head coach Dennis Allen will face his former team. Allen was the defensive backs coach for the Saints from 2008-2010 before being hired as Denver’s defensive coordinator last season.
Oakland is ranked 31st in running the football with a 76.7 yards per game average but are 5th in the league passing it averaging 288.9 yards per game. What makes Oakland’s passing game dangerous? “The speed on the outside, Carson Palmer can throw it as good as anybody and when you got that kind of combination you’re going to have a lot of success,” says Saints safety Roman Harper. “The receivers are getting the ball a lot better too so you have to understand that and just understand what they do really well.”
“Carson Palmer knows where to go with the ball,” says Vitt of the Raiders offense. “Gregg Knapp, their offensive coordinator, really does a good job of creating mismatches. Pattern recognition and making sure we challenge every throw is going to be critical.”
Oakland defensively ranks 24th against the pass giving up 255.9 yards and 21st in stopping the run by giving up 119.0 yards per game. Those numbers may not scare Saints fans but again the message this week is about respecting the opponent.
“You flip open the scouting report and you turn on the film and they’re a big, physical bunch,” says Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “They’ve been able to make some plays in their secondary, turnovers and such, you’d say they have some pretty good ball skills. Really, with the exception of just some big plays they’ve given up at times, I’d say they’ve been a pretty well-rounded defense in the run and pass. They do a good job of mixing their fronts and their coverages and that kind of thing, and trying to keep an opposing offense off balance, so we’re going to have to be ready for all that stuff.”
The Saints offense has approached the last two weeks with more balance as they focus on the run more but have still managed to put up 28 (Philadelphia) and 31 points (Atlanta). Brees threw the ball just 27 times against the Eagles and handed it off 25 times. New Orleans against Atlanta threw it 32 times and ran it 29 times. “That’s as good a balance as you can get,” Brees says of the offensive balance the past two weeks. “That’s obviously what we strive for, but the complementary nature of the run game and the pass game certainly opens up plays in the pass game that I know I appreciate. It gives us those big play opportunities too with our perimeter guys and gives something for the defenses to really worry about.”
A balanced Black and Gold attack hasn’t gone unnoticed more specifically the 140 yards against Philly and the 148 yards rushing last week against Atlanta. What’s been the difference? “I think just their willingness and wanting to run it and they have stuck with it,” observes Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. “I think Chris Ivory gives them something as far as a powerful runner. He is a guy that is really hard to get down. When I look at them, they have averaged over four yards a carry. I think it’s more of a point of just staying with it and continuing to run it.”
Allen is a keen observer for this week in the locker room Saints running backs have said just that. “I feel that we’re calling the run game a lot more. We’re starting to believe in it and everybody is coming together,” says Saints running back Pierre Thomas of the resurgent run game. “Ivory who’s been waiting to get in who’s been waiting for so long is stepping up. Mark he’s finally just going out there and just playing and just running the ball like he knows how to. I mean it’s just moving and it’s just doing well. We feel like we can run the ball and we’re showing that now. We just got to stay with it.”
Sometimes numbers are telling. The Saints are 27-4 since the start of the 2010 season when the team rushes at least 21 times in a game. When the team gets 20 carries are fewer the Saints are 1-9.
The second concern is that Oakland got drubbed in Baltimore. Brees said this week that it’s almost pointless to watch that game tape because he feels that will not be the team they face. He brought up the Falcons game, where Oakland could have beaten Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. The Dirty Birds escaped with a 23-20 win. Oakland had 474 of offense and held Atlanta to 2-9 in third down conversions and just 286 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers.
Dennis Allen has been gone from the Saints for two seasons but in his three years in New Orleans he has seen Drew Brees enough and been around the Saints offense enough to recognize and know what they do. That no doubt has to be a challenge this week for the Saints offense, to run your plays but mix it up a bit because no doubt Allen remembers formations or tendencies.
So you can see why there is a little concern. It is a game after a division rival and before you face a team in San Francisco that knocked you out of the playoffs last season. You add that it is a road trip to California and you’re facing a team that was embarrassed coached by a former Saints assistant.
That said I do feel the Saints are the more talented team and always believe talents wins out, barring mistake ridden football. Penalties and turnovers are the great equalizers and if the Saints cause yellow hankies to fly and give the Raiders extra possessions this could turn into a loss.
Oakland will be ready and will test the Saints. New Orleans I believe has enough weapons on offense however and I believe the defense is improving weekly. Saints win this in a close game 27-24.