The Las Vegas Raiders were hoping to have more of a gala celebration for the opening of the brand-new Allegiant Stadium. But alas, they’re going to be empty out there. Still, there is the TV audience to consider, not to mention our BetOnline constituency, and the New Orleans Saints bring a lot of excitement to the matchup, even without the #1 receiver in the NFL.
Let’s not make any mistake about it; the Saints are not going to be taking big chunks down the field. They averaged 4.1 yards per scrimmage play against Tampa Bay, and Drew Brees did not have a field day out there, throwing for just 160 yards. What he was doing that was different than Tom Brady is that he didn’t commit turnovers. Otherwise, maybe New Orleans has more of a problem with the team that surrendered fewer rushing yards than any other in the NFL last season.
In some ways, Raider QB Derek Carr seems to be trying to emulate Brees. He doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions and doesn’t take a lot of sacks. He would like for Josh Jacobs to be a little more like Alvin Kamara, in the respect that he gets more opportunities to catch passes (he had four receptions last week). But the approach of this offense is for him to get rid of the ball quickly.
And that brings about a result that is very much like that of Brees as well. Neither of these guys throws the ball all that far. In fact, if you look at the Intended Air Yards Per Attempt (IAY), you’ll see that out of the 32 starters in the league. Brees’ figure is the second lowest at 4.5, with Carr is 26th place with 5.5.
And none of this is necessarily out of character for either of them. Last season Brees was 32nd on the list, while Carr was 30th. In other words, these guys engage in what some people like to call “long handoffs.” That’s why I was so curious as to why the Saints would sign Jameis Winston, who has been second on that list two years running. He didn’t appear to fit what they like to do.
In the Monday Night Football odds on the game as they are posted at BetOnline, the Saints are laying points on the road:
New Orleans Saints -5.5
Las Vegas Raiders +5.5
Over 48.5 points -110
Under 48.5 points -110
Now the Saints are facing a dilemma, in that a cornerstone of this offensive scheme will not be available to play. Michael Thomas, who had 149 catches last year, won’t play because of a high ankle sprain, and may be out a couple of more weeks as well.
Consider that the most productive wide receiver on the New Orleans roster last year, aside from Thomas, was Ted Ginn (no longer with the team), who had 30 receptions.
So there has to be a “Plan B.”
Fortunately for them, Brees has proven to be pretty good making a meal with limited ingredients.
Just the fact that he’s been able to set passing records when the entire defense knows who’s getting those downfield targets should tell you something. But Brees will just put together a formula and brew it up.
The Saints will plow forward with newcomer Emmanuel Sanders at one of the wide receiver spots, along with Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris. Kamara will likely ramp things up another level. And then there is tight end Jared Cook, who hit big with the Raiders a couple of years ago and caught nine touchdowns on just 65 targets last season with New Orleans. He could be a very key part of this attack. Let’s also remember that the “Swiss Army knife” will be employed, as Taysom Hill always has something up his sleeve.
What might be a bigger factor here are the injuries on the Las Vegas offensive line. Trent Brown is listed as doubtful, as is Sam Young, so it is quite possible that they will go with a third-string right tackle. How much will this affect what Jacobs can do? We know how Gruden likes to run the ball. It’s a necessity for him.
Ultimately we couldn’t offer much confidence in the Raiders’ secondary, which is young and unproven and allowed Teddy Bridgewater, who filled in so nicely for the Saints last year when Brees was injured, to throw for eight yards an attempt. They had life-and-death with Carolina last week, even as the Panthers were neglecting Christian McCaffrey for most of the game.
The Saints should be more than functional on Monday night. And this week they present a challenge to Vegas defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who has to game-plan differently than he would if they had Thomas.
And the New Orleans defense, even without Marcus Davenport, is superior to this Raider unit. So we are going to lay the points and watch Brees do his improvisation act, as the Saints – who are used to playing indoors while the Raiders aren’t – cover their eighth straight road game.
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