Gameday is here and with it comes a chance for the Saints to claw their way back to .500 for the first time since week 2! For them to get to 5-5 after an 0-4 start would be somewhat miraculous, but also necessary to have any shot at the postseason. The opponent is an extremely beatable one, but the "easier" games, which don't truly exist in the NFL, are the ones the Saints seem to have the biggest problems with. Here are the five things I'll be looking for in this contest:
1. How do the Saints distribute reps amongst the backs now that Darren Sproles is back?
I'm assuming Sproles, still on the mend, will still have a lighter workload than normal. It seems obvious that Travaris Cadet will be the odd man out of offensive reps with Sproles back, but Sproles also figures to eat into the reps of the other three backs (Ingram, Thomas, Ivory) more than Cadet did. Whatever happens, I hope the Saints have learned their lesson keeping Chris Ivory out of the lineup. The guy needs to play, and he needs to have a prominent role in the Saints' running game. His performances the last two weeks are the only evidence needed to solidify the notion that he needs to be on the field.
2. Do the Raiders show up on defense?
The Raiders gave up 42 points and just short of one million yards to Doug Martin and the Bucs two weeks ago, and followed that up by yielding 55 points to the Ravens' hot and cold offense. Based on those two weeks, the Saints should put up somewhere near 700 points in this game. More seriously, we know it almost never works out as you expect, and the Raiders would presumably play more inspired football at home after those embarrassments. But will the Raiders be able to do anything to even slow down Brees? I tend to think the only thing that can stop the Saints in this game is themselves, so hopefully they take advantage of what I consider a gross mismatch.
3. Can Charles Brown continue the form of last week against the Falcons?
I feel more comfortable with Charles Brown starting at right tackle by a factor of about fifty after his incredibly solid showing against the Falcons last Sunday. There's still that mildly uncomfortable feeling that remains, though, due to his showing against the Rams last season. It's just too soon to completely forget that. So I'm looking for a second straight solid outing from Brown before I'm ready to pretend like his attempts at blocking Chris Long never happened.
4. Is red zone success the calling card of the 2012 Saints defense?
For the entire first half of the season Ralph Malbrough and I have been begging and praying for this defense to be good at SOMETHING. ANYTHING. The last two weeks it's become apparent that this defense does a good job stopping the opposition in goal line sets. They've come up with statement stops against the Bucs, Eagles and Falcons. Maybe we can at least hang our hat on hopes that as opposing offenses gash their way up and down the field on the Saints, they'll at least have a hard time punching it in from close. So I'm looking for another good red zone defensive showing from the Saints, who have to be growing in confidence in that set.
5. Do the Raiders get any yardage at all running the ball?
The Saints held Michael Turner to 15 yards on 13 carries last week, so the run defense is coming around. On top of that, the Raiders are likely going to be without their top two backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson due to high ankle sprains. That leaves Taiwan Jones, Jeremy Stewart and Marcel Reese to split carries and try to carry the Raiders woeful running game. The Raiders average a pitiful 2.95 yards per carry rushing without McFadden or Goodson in the backfield this season. I'd be severely disappointed to see the Raiders eclipse 100 yards rushing.
In closing, I just want to say that I think this is a trap game. The Raiders are massively overmatched and they know it. Expect them to run a ton of what I call chicken $%&# plays. Reverses, halfback passes, fake punts, etc etc… plays you are not accustomed to seeing that catch you off guard in an attempt even the scales. They can't beat the Saints playing straight up football, so I fully expect lots of trickery.