NFL

Raiders prepare for stiff test vs. Brees, Saints

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)

There are plenty of questions about the Oakland Raiders defense after being shredded by big pass plays by Arizona and gashed by the run by San Francisco in the first two exhibition games.

With Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints coming to town Sunday night for what is considered a regular season dress rehearsal, the Raiders know they will be exposed on national television if they haven't solved those problems.

"This is probably the best test that we can get playing against a tremendous offensive football team with a quarterback that I think is one of the best in football," coach Hue Jackson said. "It's a great test for our football team."

With starters usually getting their most extensive playing time of the preseason, the third exhibition game is often viewed as the best gauge for where a team stands heading into the season.

Rarely has that game predicted what was to come better than it was two years ago when New Orleans came to Oakland and dismantled the Raiders 45-7. The Saints went on to win their first 13 regular season games and then the Super Bowl a little more than five months later, topping 40 points in four of the first six contests.

The Raiders, on the other hand, went on to their NFL-worst seventh straight season of at least 11 losses, with five of those losses coming by at least 20 points.

In the game two years ago, Brees completed 14 of 17 passes for 179 yards and drove the Saints to touchdowns on all three drives he played. The offense clicked so well that coach Sean Payton pulled most of his starters early in the second quarter instead of playing them into the third quarter as planned.

"They're obviously a much better team than they were two years ago," Brees said. "I feel like we have the ability to be a better team than we were two years ago. That's our goal, to build this team and develop young players. We just want to play well. If we walk away from that Oakland game and we play well ... it makes you feel like we have a chance to play well and continue growing in that first game."

Mark Brunell led a pair of touchdown drives after that as the Saints took a 31-0 halftime lead, outgaining Oakland 344-60 in the first two quarters.

Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt needed little reminding this week about what happened two years ago and said he views this game as a good barometer for what's to come this season.

"This is definitely going to be a test to see where we are, mentally, physically, just as a whole defense, offense," Routt said. "It's going to show a little bit of where you're going to be able to start the season."

The Saints have split their first two exhibition games with vastly different defensive performances. New Orleans used an aggressive, blitzing defense to beat San Francisco 24-3 in the opener before giving up 436 yards in a 27-14 loss at Houston last week.

New Orleans is looking for a bounce-back performance in what may be the last opportunity for many starters to play this preseason.

"The Raiders have a great running game, so that's a great early test for us," linebacker Will Herring said. "For me personally, anywhere I'm lining up, my goal has to be to stop their run. We're going to get a good barometer of where we are right now."

Payton said he plans to play his starters on both sides of the ball for the entire first half and then possibly play one unit a little bit in the third quarter depending on how the game played out.

Jackson hasn't committed to how much his starters will play and even which ones will see the field. Oakland was without some key offensive players in losses to Arizona and San Francisco to open the preseason, including star running back Darren McFadden (broken orbital bone) and big-play receiver Jacoby Ford (broken hand).

Both players returned to practice this week but Jackson might not want to risk injuries with them. Oakland also will be without key receivers Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens and tight end Kevin Boss. Quarterback Jason Campbell, who left last week's game early after getting kneed in the helmet, is expected to play.

This game should provide a stiff test to some of Oakland's young cornerbacks, who have been struggling this summer. With All Pro Nnamdi Asomugha gone to free agency and starter Chris Johnson hurt, rookies DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa and second-year players Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware have gotten plenty of opportunities this preseason.

They have struggled in practice and the two games, allowing 297 yards passing to Arizona in the exhibition opener. Facing Brees and one of the NFL's most sophisticated pass offenses will be a stiff test for the Raiders unproven cornerbacks.

"If somebody catches a ball on you early, it's no reason to get down," Routt said. "I'll leave that to you guys to go ahead and criticize everybody. It's just football. You'll never see a game where there are no balls caught by a receiver, and you'll never see a game where there's not one pass completed by a quarterback."

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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Oxnard, Calif., contributed to this report.

Tagged: Raiders, Saints, Drew Brees, Stanford Routt, Will Herring

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