Drew Brees and the Saints need to stay cool and in control Sunday at Oakland against the 3-6 Oakland Raiders.
The weather promises to be somewhat cool and wet (temperatures in the 50s and 50-plus percent chance of rain).
It's the first time the teams have played in the regular season since 2008, when the Saints blew the Raiders out at the then-Louisiana Superdome. Of course, the Saints have made the playoffs three consecutive seasons since then and won a Super Bowl in that period of time.
The Raiders have gone through three head coaches in that time span.
Whatever the case is, Sunday's game is of mass importance to the New Orleans Saints, who would love nothing more than to salvage their once lost season and make the 2012 NFC playoffs.
Sunday is a crucial step to that end.
Here are the ways they can get that done.
When you think of the Oakland Raiders, you think of speed.
No current Raider player embodies that more than Denarius Moore, at least on the field. Darren McFadden is fast but combines that with power and other elite traits when healthy.
Jacoby Ford has similar speed, but he hasn't used it to its full benefit. The same could be said of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Taiwan Jones.
Moore, though, has learned to harness that speed and get the most of it. He regularly blows by defensive backs, whose only hope is to hold and not get caught or hope by some slight chance Moore drops any pass thrown to him.
Perhaps the Saints will be afforded the luxury of a slow track due to a ton of rain in order to neutralize Moore's God-given burst. Otherwise, Saints DBs are almost certain to be left in their tracks.
Carson Palmer's release has elongated since he left Cincinnati. Most of that is due to slow decision-making though.
Palmer seems to take a long time to make a decision, then grip it and rip it. This becomes a major issue for Oakland on long pass drops, since Oakland's line is nothing short awful, especially on the edges.
Cam Jordan, Will Smith and Martez Wilson must take advantage on the outside and get Palmer. The veteran also has a tendency to fumble when strip-sacked, meaning the Saints could probably snatch a ball and field position away from Oakland once or twice in this game.
— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) November 15, 2012
#Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) missed practice today. He was limited yesterday. McFadden, Goodson, Seymour, Branch also DNP.
With news out of Oakland that neither Darren McFadden nor Mike Goodson have practiced the past two days, it seems unlikely that both will play. But it's certainly not impossible.
If neither plays, the Raiders running back group will likely consist of Marcel Reese and Taiwan Jones. That is still a dangerous duo.
Reese is basically the fullback version of Vernon Davis, who has the size, speed and strength to play any skill position on the team.
And Jones might be the fastest player the Raiders have on their entire team.
Just because neither player has the national following of Goodson or McFadden doesn't mean the guys cannot play. The Saints cannot let those two guys beat them though.
It's funny, isn't it, how certain players come into the league and instantly remind you of other players? Rod Streater reminds me of a cross between Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston (who are close to clones anyway).
Streater possesses Jackson's speed and burst with Colston's great leaping ability and aptitude for bringing down passes from high in the air in crowded spaces. It makes him a truly dynamic receiver, one the Raiders will love in their offense for years to come.
As the VJ comparisons go, it is a scary one for the Saints' secondary who was lit up by Jackson six weeks ago for over 200 yards. The Saints need to go back and reconsider how to cover bigger and faster receivers.
I don't know if the answer is zone coverage or tight man-to-man, but an answer must be had. Of course, as we already discussed, getting a pass rush on Oakland seems possible and is necessary in this game.
That would help the coverage a ton.
This is more of a general warning. We've already established that Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are speed threats. If Darrius Heyward-Bey plays, he provides a third legitimate deep threat for Oakland.
While Oakland will dink and dunk the ball down the field if you allow them, its biggest plays will always come down the field on deep throws.
Throws to the tight ends will generally be had in the flats or in intermediate zones. In other words, those throws won't ultimately beat the Saints.
Only the down the field throws will. Of course, that assumes the Saints tackle on short throws. But against Oakland they should be able to at least do that.
Everyone who watches football knows the New Orleans Saints have seen an explosion in their rushing-game production the past two weeks.
Both were home games. But the teams' next-best output came in a road game in the second week of the season at Carolina.
Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram must continue to do what they've done the past two weeks in conditions that promise to be wet and soggy. There's no doubt the Saints could throw the ball effectively against Oakland (and probably will), but the running game is going to need to be used often and effectively.
Between Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston, the Oakland Raiders have an immensely talented defensive line. Throw in standout rookie outside linebacker Miles Burris and Rolando McClain (and Aaron Curry if healthy) and the Raiders have one of the most talented front sevens in football.
To be completely honest, the front seven doesn't have a ton of holes when playing as one unit. New Orleans' offensive game plan is going to have to start, and ultimately end, with ensuring the Oakland front seven does not win the battle of the trenches.
Each game the Saints have won this season has resulted, in part, because the Saints owned the trenches on both sides of the ball. In a game that figures to feature inclement weather and a soggy field, that battle grows in relevance this week.
Are Jermon Bushrod, Ben Grubbs, Brian de la Puente, Jahri Evans and Charles Brown up to the task this week?
The answer to that question may determine which team wins the football game.
The Raiders' big addition to the roster comes in the form of Ron Bartell, whose career stock took a dramatic nosedive the past few seasons after being one of the talks of the free-agent market just a couple of offseasons ago.
Former safety Michael Huff is starting at the other corner spot. That makes for one of the most stiff and vulnerable starting corner tandems in the NFL.
Yet, the Raiders play a ton of man coverage. And when the team elects to play zone, it's just as ugly.
The Saints can and will throw the ball all over the yard against this secondary. The only question, really, is whether the running game follows suit.
I remember watching an NFL Films highlight of the reopening of the dome back in September 2006. In the highlight, Sean Payton is shown giving some members of the Saints a stern but encouraging pep talk on the benches in the middle of the teams' beatdown on the rival Atlanta Falcons.
Payton basically shouted, "Kick 'em off the [expletive] diving board!" It was great television. And the quote is perfect since the team is playing the Raiders—a fancy name for Pirates. The Saints must turn the saying against the Raiders and use it the same way they did on that fanciful night seven years ago.
The Saints must get off to a fast start against Oakland and then kick the Raiders off the diving board.
That is one of the most important keys to this game.
Courtney Roby figures to return to the lineup this week for New Orleans, which will certainly upgrade the entire outlook of the Saints' special teams play.
Yet, last week, Thomas Morstead's directional punting was as good as it gets, and the return units were equally good a week ago.
That play must continue, as Oakland possesses two of the best punter/kicker combos with Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Field position will be key this week with the conditions being what they're expected to be.
These are the keys to winning on Sunday in Oakland.