The New Orleans Saints have won their first two preseason games of the year in impressive fashion, and they are flying high going into their third game. On Aug. 29, the Saints play the Oakland Raiders in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Saints are set to go against one of the better running teams in the league on Saturday when they face the Raiders. Oakland has a stable of running backs that includes Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas. They plan on using them in heavy doses this year, and they will definitely let all three of those guys get some carries against the Saints' defense.
In the Saints’ first two preseason games, they have had some trouble stopping the run, but the teams they were facing didn’t exactly expose that weakness, with the Bengals and the Texans combining to throw 74 passes in the two games. It has been widely speculated that the loss of defensive tackles Brian Young and Hollis Thomas has been the reason for the Saints' problems on run defense.
The starters at defensive tackle this year for the Saints are last year’s first-round draft pick Sedrick Ellis and 10-year veteran Kendrick Clancy. These two will definitely have to step their games up and start clogging up some of those running lanes, or the Saints' lack of run-stopping ability won’t be a secret for too much longer.
The Raiders’ defense possesses one of the most prolific weapons in the entire NFL with All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. He has been selected to two Pro Bowls in his six years with the Raiders, and he is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL, if not the best.
Asomugha will probably be matched up with Drew Brees' No. 1 option, wide receiver Marques Colston, the entire time they are in the game. While the Saints’ 6'4", 225-pound receiver will surely be able to fight his way into open areas for Brees to connect with him, Asomugha will probably make life very difficult for Colston.
As a result of this, Brees will have to be able to get all of his other receivers involved, along with his tight ends and running backs, in order to make up for the loss in Colston’s production.
Brees will more likely than not be just fine with all of the options he has in the passing game. After all, he did throw for over 5,000 yards last season with Colston on the sidelines for five of those games. But Brees seems to have a much easier time moving the ball up the field whenever he can get Colston involved.
Unfortunately, in this game, he might not have that option very often.
Once again, the Saints will be without the services of starting left tackle Jamaal Brown, due to his sports hernia surgery that will keep him out the entire preseason.
Third-year left tackle Jermon Bushrod replaced Brown in the Texans game and did pretty well. He was matched up for the majority of the game against All-Pro defensive end Mario Williams and did not allow Williams, who has had a combined 26 sacks over the past two seasons, to sack Brees once.
Williams finished with four tackles, but for the most part, Bushrod held his own against a player who is well on his way to becoming arguably the best defensive player in the entire NFL.
Against the Raiders, Bushrod will be matched up against savvy veteran Greg Ellis, who will surely give the young Bushrod a run for his money.
Losing Brown for any substantial amount of time would be a huge blow to the Saints' offense, but if Bushrod can hold his own against two of the best defensive ends in the NFL, Brown’s absence won’t seem as much of a detriment to the Saints' offense as it did when the news of his surgery first broke.
It has been reported that Reggie Bush will suit up for the first time this year in the Raiders game, and he expects to “play quite a bit this game,” according to a report on Nola.com. If this is true, this is a very big game for Bush as well.
Coming off knee surgery this offseason, Bush is expected to have a breakout season if he can remain healthy, and a big game against this Raiders' defense can be a precursor to the type of season Bush hopes to have this year.
He says his knee is “100 percent” now, and he expects big things of himself this year. If he shows flashes of some of the Reggie Bush that we have seen when he's been healthy over the past three years, the former Heisman Trophy winner won't be the only one expecting big things.
After running back Mike Bell ran for 100 yards on 10 carries against the Houston Texans on Saturday, his spot on this year’s regular season roster was solidified. But in this game against the Oakland Raiders, Bell can take an even bigger step in the eyes of the Saints' coaches.
If Bell can put forward another performance like he gave in Houston on Saturday, he may be given the opportunity to turn the Saints' current 1-2 punch in the backfield—which features Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush as the team’s main ball carriers—into a 1-2-3 punch featuring Bush, Thomas, and Bell.
He has shown all the ability and wherewithal to insert himself into the Saints’ offensive gameplan; now it’s just a matter of going out and proving himself to Sean Payton and the rest of the Saints' coaches.
The Raiders are a team built upon the big pass play. With cannon-armed third-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell under center and wide receivers like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Louis Murphy, the Raiders will be looking to make plays down the field in their passing game.
The Saints have been known for the past few years as probably the most vulnerable team in the NFL when it comes to deep passing plays, so they will have to show they are no longer the team that gives up 40- and 50-yard touchdown passes almost every game.
They have shown glimpses of making vast improvements in this area with the impressive play of newcomers Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper, as well as players from last year’s team, like Tracy Porter and Roman Harper.
But this group will have to show the ability to perform at a high level week in and week out in order to get the respect they think they deserve.