This Sunday we’ll get our first taste of the Oakland Raiders in primetime as the New Orleans Saints make the trip to The Bay. Let’s not talk about how one-sided this series has been in recent years. Be it the preseason or regular season the Saints have shredded the Raiders.
As far as preseason games go this will be the most important of all. The third preseason contest is generally when you get your first prolonged look at the starters. No doubt Hue Jackson will be anxious to see his offense closer to full strength as Darren McFadden makes his preseason debut.
New Orleans is a great measuring stick for Oakland. The high-powered passing attack will provide the best test to date for the young secondary and the Saints boast a bevy of versatile running backs that will surely test the run defense.
In order to get to know just what the Raiders are up against the Sunday we shot him a few questions in preparation for the contest.
Q: What kind of a season are you expecting for the Saints?
A: Last season the Saints were able to shake off the “Superbowl hangover” and reel of an eleven win season with a decimated running back group. Those issues have been fixed this year — with the drafting of Mark Ingram and signing of Darren Sproles — as well as other issues such as the defensive line (rush defense) and linebackers (younger, faster). With Drew Brees at the helm, Sean Payton calling the offense, and Gregg Williams the defense there is no reason they should not be considered favorites to win the NFC South.
Q: Will Sean Payton be going with another running back by committee system or do you expect one man to emerge?
A: No running back has ever averaged more than 175 carries inside Sean Payton’s offense since he took over. The only exception was Deuce McAllister, who carried the ball 277 times for 1,057 yards in 2006. There is no reason to think this season will be any different, but what we do know is Payton will utilize each running back in situations that emphasize their talent. (Thomas with the screen, Ingram in goal line, Sproles on third downs.)
Q: The third preseason game is usually the most important, how has the team been in camp this week?
A: Focused would be a good word after a terrible loss to the Houston Texans last week. Getting away from their Metairie practice facility they moved practice to Oxnard, California. That moved has forced the Saints into more spirited competition and team bonding — there are no families, there are no friends to cause a distraction.
Q: Have we seen the last of the elite level Drew Brees or does he have more left in the tank than he’s given credit for?
A: Not by a long shot, Brees has plenty left in the tank and many good years still ahead of him. Last season was uncharacteristic of Brees, who threw a career high 22 interceptions, but that had everything to do with a lack of any real rush offense. New Orleans became one dimensional and opposing defenses knew their best chance to beat the Saints was to stop Drew Brees in the air. Defenses sat back and feasted on the aerial display. Despite this he still threw for over 4,000 yards, and completed 68% of his passes. Now with a rejuvenated run game Brees should cut his interception total in half without much problem.
Q: Which rookie are you expecting big things from?
A: Running back Mark Ingram should turn some heads this season. Everyone who has seen him in actions unanimously agrees that he is the real deal with an extremely bright future. Another rookie that may surprise some people is third round draft pick corner Johnny Patrick. He was injured during the Saints win over the 49ers which unfortunately has sidelined him ever since. Before his injury he looked really good through the game just as he has throughout training camp. Realistically he could compete for the top nickel spot when healthy.
Q: Who is the player flying below the radar that you think will breakout this season?
A: Defensive tackle Tom Johnson, a former CFL all-star and NFL practice squad player. Johnson has also stood out in camp garnering plenty of attention from coaches who have raved about his excellent speed and pass rush ability. He to was injured against the 49ers, but should see some action against your Raiders Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn in some big plays.