Sep 1, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) stretches before the game Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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The Oakland Raiders kickoff their regular season on the road against the New Orleans Saints. Here are three keys to victory.
The Raiders obviously want to get their season started with a win. In order to do so, they’ll have to accomplish several different tasks, and the first one starts with getting after the quarterback.
Pressuring Drew Brees
The first thing the Raiders need to prepare for is stopping the Saints offense, and the best way to do that is to pressure Drew Brees.
At home, the Saints offense works at its best with the security of the Superdome helping their quarterback’s declining arm. Brees’ play has dropped in the last five seasons, but he still threw for 4,871 yards and 32 TD’s last season.
Given time, Brees can still cut up defenses, so getting him on the ground is key. The Raiders will also have to watch for Brees and his hard counts, which he often uses to draw a flag and get a free play, a lot like Aaron Rodgers did all last season.
The Saints offensive line is very top heavy — with Terron Armstead being an elite offensive tackle — but after him, the o-line falls off. Max Unger is a solid center but has issues with powerful defensive linemen, which the Raiders have in Dan Williams and Justin Ellis.
2015 first-round pick left guard Andrus Peat has been very disappointing, and has been moved all around the Saints line throughout the preseason to try to find him a home. New Orleans also brought back Jahri Evans after parting ways with him at the end of 2015, and are throwing him straight into the fire with a week one start. Then at right tackle, they have Zach Strief, who is an excellent matchup for Khalil Mack.
So the Raiders’ pass rush needs to take every advantage they can to get Brees on the ground, which will me a major key in helping them win this game.
Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Getting the “Tay-Train” Rolling
The Raiders staff has been adamant on starting Latavius Murray at running back this year, to the dismay of many Raiders fans.
Oakland’s offense worked better last year when they had their run game going — Derek Carr could work off play-action, which opened up things for the receiving options, since the safeties would cheat against the run. So getting Latavius’ momentum is a big need for this team.
Oakland invested a lot in its run game by bringing in Rodney Hudson last year and then Kelechi Osemele this year. Now it’s crucial they take advantage of it.
Murray himself needs to start making guys miss when he hits the second level, and decide if he wants to be a power back or speed back because his indecisiveness has prevented him from taking that needed next step. If Oakland wants Murray to be their workhorse back, he needs to improve, especially now that he has Deandre Washington breathing down his neck on the depth chart.
On the Saints side of things, their defensive stud on the defensive line is Cam Jordan, and the matchup between him and Raiders left tackle Donald Penn will be interesting.
Menelik Watson has the task of taking on Paul Kruger, who is a more adept pass rusher than run blocker, so Watson should have the advantage there.
In the middle, the Saints lost their 2016 first-round pick Sheldon Rankins to a season-ending leg injury, leaving former first-round pick Nick Fairley and 2015 fifth-round pick Tyeler Davison to battle Osemele and company.
Getting the run going is imperative for this Oakland offense to get moving and is a major key to not just a win the season opener, but the season in general.
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith (21) reacts in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland’s Secondary Gelling as a Unit
Sadly, Charles Woodson is no longer roaming the secondary. The entire group is revamped from last year, with David Amerson and Nate Allen being the only returning starters. The team also added Karl Joseph in the first-round, and all-pros Reggie Nelson Sean Smith.
With the tricky passing concepts Sean Payton and the Saints run, the secondary is going to have to communicate and work together to stifle New Orleans’ passing attack. It takes time for a defensive backfield to gel and hopefully the Raiders can do it quickly versus an excellent passing team.
The most intriguing matchup I’m looking at is Brandin Cooks versus the bigger, longer cornerbacks on Oakland, who tend to struggle with the smaller, quicker guys like Cooks.
Also, Coby Fleener will be one to watch, with the way teams attacked Oakland down the seam last season. Hopefully, the Raiders have found a way to sure up that issue, or it will be another long year on defense.
The first key in this article, putting pressure on Bree, will greatly help the secondary, but they can’t do it alone. The secondary is going to have to lock their guys up and give the pass rush time to get after the QB.
I think the Raiders have all the tools needed to win in the Bayou — it’ll be a tough fight to win, but if they can pull out a victory, it would be a great start to the season.