Gameday: New Orleans Saints @ Oakland Raiders, keep your eye on…
By Keith Null
1. The Saints defense, which was decimated by the Houston Texans last week both on the ground and through the air.
We won’t re-hash the amount of yards the Texans piled up in the first two quarters, but it was copious amounts, and the Saints must have a better showing against the Raiders.
Since Williams took over calling the shots on defense for Gary Gibbs in 2009, the Saints have steadily performed better and better each year.
Given all the defensive additions this off-season — Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers, Will Herring, Turk McBride — fans expect to see a dominant product hit the field this season.
2. The first-team offense has looked, well, rusty to say the least. They were supposed to be razor sharp after highly successful off-season practices on the campus of Tulane University during the NFL’s lockout, but that has not been the case.
Quarterback Drew Brees has completed only 44% of his passes over the last two games with zero touchdown passes.
He was used sparingly in the opener against the 49ers, played into the second quarter against the Texans, so one could make the argument he hasn’t had a chance to really get his game going.
There is no denying though that he has been ineffective passing, far from his usual deadly accurate displays and near perfect games.
The Saints leading receiver is Courtney Roby with four receptions for 42 yards. Chris Taylor is the leading rusher with 52 yards on 13 carries, it’s more than time to get it going.
3. The right tackle position is in flux after the Saints decided to release veteran Jon Stinchcomb a few weeks ago.
Head coach Sean Payton made the decision in angst, but felt it was the right move as Stinchcomb was never able to re-capture his Pro Bowl form after the 2009 season.
Veteran backup Zach Strief is now in competition with second year “rookie” Charles Brown for the starting role.
Both have good qualities and bad, but the Saints need someone to step-up desperately and establish themselves against Oakland.
4. Rookie linebacker Martez Wilson should see his most significant playing time this preseason at the strong side linebacker spot.
Potential starter Will Herring injured his calf against the Texans, leaving an opening for Wilson to run with the first team defense this week at practice in Oxnard, California.
Herring has returned from his injury but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams still plans on giving Wilson a lions share of the snaps today.
It will be the first time the Saints will get an extended look at him, at least up against starting caliber talent.
The Saints took Wilson towards the top of the third round in hopes of using him exclusively on the strong side.
He’s a raw prospect, though, and he has had to make up a lot of ground in a hurry since the NFL lockout wiped out his entire off season, and early reports were that he was struggling to pick up the Saints complicated defense.
Fans though are clamoring to get a look at the fastest linebacker in the draft (4.49) and tonight should be his biggest test yet in a Saints uniform.
5. The rotation of running backs could be an early blue print of what Sean Payton plans to do with his army of talented rushers this season.
So far Pierre Thomas has opened up as the starter, followed closely by the rookie Mark Ingram. Both have played well in their own right and both are vying for scarce carries inside the Saints potent offense.
The wild card is former Charger Darren Sproles who is quickly becoming a favorite of Payton. His presence could greatly impact the playing time of both Thomas and Ingram, which makes for an interesting problem — who gets the ball?
Don’t sleep on Chris Ivory either, who proved last season he has the ability to be an elite rusher in the NFL. Currently healing from multiple injuries he figures to make the roster regardless and could contribute earlier then people think.
Joique Bell, Patrick Cobb, and Chris Taylor are also in the mix to make the 53.
Personal favorite would have to be Bell, who looked good against the 49ers before his injury, but two days from now the Saints will have to start making cuts and tough decisions.