Raiders make their Las Vegas debut in primetime against the Saints
The Las Vegas Raiders are set to take on the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football," as the franchise makes its first-ever appearance in Sin City in its new home, Allegiant Stadium. The Raiders enter this game looking to improve to 2-0 on the young season after beating Carolina 34-30 last Sunday. The two teams went back and forth throughout the first half before Las Vegas built a 12-point lead in the third quarter only to see the Panthers rally. But the Raiders scored the go-ahead touchdown with a little more than four minutes remaining and held on for the hard-fought victory.
The Saints trailed Tampa Bay in the Superdome 7-0 after the first quarter of their much-anticipated showdown with the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers. But Drew Brees and the offense put together three straight scoring drives, aided by an interception and a blocked field goal, to stake New Orleans to a 17-7 halftime lead.
Much was made of the first of two divisional meetings between the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but it was New Orleans' defense that played a starring role in this one. The Saints picked off Brady twice, one of which Janoris Jenkins returned 36 yards for a touchdown to end Tampa Bay's first drive of the second half, and sacked him three times. Besides the blocked field goal, special teams also recovered a muffed kickoff to round out a balanced team effort.
The last time these two teams met was in Week 1 of the 2016 season in New Orleans. In a game that featured nearly 1,000 yards of offense, the Raiders edged out a 35-34 win thanks to a touchdown and two-point conversion with 47 seconds left. Brees and Derek Carr were both sharp in that game, combing for 742 passing yards and five touchdowns (four by Brees) with just one turnover (lost fumble by Brees).
Monday Night Football: New Orleans at Las Vegas
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 21 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Jacobs vs. Saints' run defense
Jacobs sparked the Raiders' offense at Carolina. He had three rushing touchdowns compared to the seven he totaled in 13 games as a rookie. He finished with 93 rushing yards on 25 carries and added another 46 yards on four receptions in the win over the Panthers. Those receiving numbers exceeded anything that he posted in any game last season.
The Saints look to continue their stinginess against opponents trying to run the ball. New Orleans was fourth in the NFL last season against the run (91.3 ypg), and no running back has gained more than 100 yards on the ground against the Saints since Week 8 of the 2017 season (Jordan Howard, Bears). Will Jacobs be able to build on his impressive season-opening performance and break New Orleans' formidable defensive streak?
2. Raiders' banged-up offensive line
Jacobs will struggle to accomplish anything if the line in front of him is as limited as it appears that it will be. Starting right tackle Trent Brown left last week's game with an injured calf, did not practice at all this week and is listed as Doubtful for Monday night. Left guard Richie Incognito has been limited in practice due to an Achilles issue but he is expected to play. Backup tackle Sam Young sustained a groin injury against the Panthers and he also is listed as Doubtful. Backup guard John Simpson, a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, has been limited by a shoulder injury and is listed as Questionable on the injury report.
Who ends up being available on Monday night remains to be seen but it's pretty clear that this group won't be anywhere near full strength, which does not bode well for Jacobs or quarterback Derek Carr. New Orleans harassed Tom Brady all game long last Sunday, sacking him three times, picking him off twice and limiting him to a 23-of-36 passing performance. The Saints also held the Buccaneers to 3.3 yards per carry with just two rushes (in 26 attempts) going for more than six yards.
3. Saints' depleted passing attack
Drew Brees looked ordinary against the Buccaneers. He completed only 18 of 30 passes, a 60 percent completion rate. That was only the second time since 2017 that the most accurate passer in NFL history (67.6 percent) had posted such a low completion rate in a game in which he played at least three full quarters. He equaled that same percentage in a home loss to the New England Patriots in Week 2 of the 2017 season. Additionally, Brees' 160 passing yards were his fewest in a complete game since a loss in Dallas in Week 12 of the 2018 season.
Compounding Brees' difficulties, his most productive target, Michael Thomas, suffered a high ankle sprain last Sunday. The Bucs had contained Thomas before he left the game in the fourth quarter, as the single-season record holder for receptions (149) managed just three catches for 17 yards. Those were his lowest numbers since catching three passes for 11 yards in the Saints' fifth game of the 2017 season.
By far the most productive target in New Orleans' passing game, Brees must now turn to someone else to help him move the ball through the air. The question is who can he and head coach Sean Payton trust? Of the wide receivers returning from 2019, Tre'Quan Smith finished eighth on the team in catches (18), seventh in receiving yards (234), and fourth in touchdown receptions (five). The only other current wide receiver on the Saints' roster from last season, Deonte Harris, caught only six passes for 24 yards and no scores. New Saint Emmanuel Sanders, compiled 66 receptions for 869 yards and five touchdowns playing for both the Broncos (seven games) and 49ers (10) last season. Sanders had three catches (on five targets) for 15 yards in his New Orleans debut, although one of them was good for a five-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Brees, he has other options to throw to, including tight end Jared Cook. Third on the team in receptions (43), second in yards (705), and tied for the lead in touchdown catches (nine, with Thomas), Cook was the Saints' most productive pass catcher in Week 1, gaining 80 yards on five grabs. Running back Alvin Kamara (81 rec., 533 yds., TD in 2019) remains a deadly weapon out of the backfield. He tied Cook with five catches last Sunday, including a 12-yard touchdown for New Orleans' first score of the 2020 season. Additionally, the offense's wildcard, Taysom Hill, could see more opportunities. He posted 19 receptions for 234 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 in addition to his other contributions. All of these players will need to step up to offset Thomas' absence.
It is truly unfortunate that the first home game for the Raiders in their new home will not include fans in the seats. What should have served as a proud moment in the history of Las Vegas will be subdued. Will the mere novelty of their stadium and location bolster the Silver and Black? The Raiders will need more than that to overcome an opponent targeting the Lombardi Trophy.
Prediction: Saints 31, Raiders 16
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.