New Year, New Hope — Gus Kattengell’s Saints Report for Week 1 vs Raiders
There’s only one problem. There doesn’t seem to be the typical overabundance of optimism about the Saints 2016 season as perhaps there has been or one has become accustomed to during the Sean Payton era.
Perhaps it’s the fact the team is coming off of yet another non-playoff season, the team’s third in the last four years.
Maybe it’s the fact the Saints went winless in four preseason games. Yeah the games don’t count but boy they sure didn’t look good in the meaningless contests. You know the plays where starters were actually in the game and, well, didn’t play very well.
It could also be that the team has acted like we all have before a big house party or dinner and have forgotten items, rushing to the store to hurriedly hope we can make it all work just in time, by making late last-minute adjustments to the 53-man roster.
Take your pick but for whatever reason it seems Saints fans are expecting another season that will have fans and the team watching the postseason from the comforts of their own living rooms.
“2-14”, said a gentleman at the gym this week. “Brees will get injured behind that offensive line.” The person he was speaking to in the conversation gave his opinion on the season’s record. “5-6 wins with a healthy Drew Brees.” It seems that even the most optimistic Saints fans feels that a 9-7 season would be a good one. Incredible when you consider three seasons ago the Saints were being talked about as Super Bowl contenders.
The storylines to me have to do with as much of how the Saints play as it does with how good the Raiders are.
Here’s what I’m getting at. The Saints have 21 players on the roster that were not on the roster in 2016. Head coach Sean Payton this week tried to calm Who Dats’ nerves by saying that roster tinkering even post the mandated cut to 53 is normal at this time of the year.
I agree, if it was to look for depth or to replace players injured during the preseason, for example, cornerback Damian Swann. The problem is coach is looking for players that will start or see significant snaps. Just since the final preseason game against the Ravens, the Saints have signed a new kicker in Will Lutz, a pass rusher in Paul Krueger, a nickel corner in Sterling Moore, and right guard in Jahri Evans.
That’s not to mention the hopes that rookies De’Vante Harris, Ken Crawley or P.J. Williams battling for the right to be the starting corner opposite of second year corner Delvin Breaux. There is also hope that second year player Andrus Peat will “fit” in at left guard now. Remember he was drafted to play right tackle, saw time at left tackle and guard last season and the vision was for him to start at right guard this season.
See my point? There is a lot of hope that pieces, and many of those being new pieces will come together quickly. It’s reasonable to assume that the opening game of the season will be a whirlwind for the team as both coaches and players trying to run as one well-oiled machine. The reality is that it’ll be almost impossible.
The Raiders have had a season in which to learn and play with the key pieces that now make up their team. Carr has had two seasons under center and one full with Amari Cooper as the team’s primary pass catcher. Head coach Jack Del Rio has upgraded their offensive line but comes back mainly intact. The defense, which was a strength, picked up some additions there as well in free agency.
Oakland has an idea of who they are at the very least and could argue that they do know and are now looking to take another step into becoming a winner. The Saints one could argue are still in that first step of trying to figure out a competitive roster much less figuring out who they are.
So the task will be being able to assemble this group and get them to play on the same page enough against a team that realizes a season of great expectations begins with a good start.
Oakland enters the 2016 season with expectations of a team that is heading in the right direction and will contend for a spot in the AFC Playoffs at season’s end. The Raiders have not made the playoffs since 2003 but after a decision to tear down of the roster a few years ago and a rebuild with young pieces the franchise looks poised to be a contender.
Jack Del Rio heads up the team and made no bones about their intentions this year during preseason stating, “we come in expecting to win our division. That’s our goal, it’s our goal every year. We’re not going to back away from that.”
QB Derek Carr enters his third season under center and second year wide receiver Amari Cooper help form a pretty good offense as often over looked running back Latavius Murray is solid. Oakland also made a pair of moves this offseason to their already big offensive line, becoming bigger. Defensive End Khalil Mack leads the pass rushing attack for the raiders and he’s good, receiving All-Pro votes at TWO positions last season. ESPN’s Charles Woodson went as far as picking Mack as the league MVP predicting he’d lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl win over the Packers.
The Raiders were 1-3 in the preseason winning their opener 31-10 over Arizona before losing 20-12 to Green Bay, 27-14 to Tennessee and 23-21 to Seattle.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Saints offense finished ranked second overall in the NFL behind Arizona. New Orleans was ranked tops in passing and 24th rushing. Oakland was 28th in rushing and 16th in passing for an overall ranking of the 24th offense in the NFL.
Defensively the Saints finished second to last overall by giving up an average of 29.8 points per game and 413 yards of offense to opponents. New Orleans was second-to-last in passing yards allowed and second-to-last in yards allowed on the ground. Oakland was 26th in passing yards allowed but 13th in the league in yards allowed on the ground as they were ranked 22nd overall.
ESPN released their power rankings this week and ranked the Saints 27th while ranking the Raiders 11th.
HOW THE SOUTH IS WON
Carolina 0-1 @ Broncos 1-0 21-20 F
Tampa Bay 0-0 @ Atlanta -3
Oakland 0-0 @ New Orleans -1
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE
QB Drew Brees. He gave the team a home town discount earlier in the week and now he’ll earn the payday as he’ll likely be under duress most of the afternoon. Brees will be tasked to avoid the turnovers that could hurt a defense stocked full of young and inexperienced players. The Saints offense has to convert on third downs and sustain drives to help out the defense. Brees has help as I believe the additions of WR Michael Thomas and TE Coby Fleener van be weapons. Brees unfortunately I believe will have to have a special day of 300 plus yards passing with at least 2 TD passes and no interceptions for the Saints to win.
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE
LB James Laurinaitis. The newly acquired quarterback of the defense has a tall task. Fans probably look at his signing and want to equate a value based on production in tackles and such. Laurinaitis biggest contributions will be in simply telling people where to go. Alignment. Checking into the right formations to combat the offense’s play call. It was something that rookie Stephon Anthony struggled with last season.
Teammates on that side of the ball have taken to his leadership and have raved about his knowledge. Here are the facts though: Laurinaitis has young players on the defensive line, linebacker and secondary positions. It’ll be a tall order to try and get guys lined up properly when the home crowd may actually work against you in terms of noise in key situations. Add the fact that he’ll likely have starters and players seeing their first regular season snaps on Sunday and well you can see why I wish him luck.
WR Willie Snead. Last season he was someone no one knew but became a player that Brees went to on third downs especially. A lot of attention will be paid to new draft pick Michael Thomas and pick up TE Coby Fleener. WR Brandin Cooks will get attention. Snead could be the one no one is thinking of and it could provide the Saints with a shot at a big play.
DB Young Bucks. De’Vante Harris, Ken Crawley, and P.J. Williams all are on the team because they made plays in OTAs, mini camp and training camp. They will be challenged as we saw in the Pittsburgh preseason game. The ability is there to make a play and making one could get the Who Dats rolling in the Dome.
HOW I SEE IT
The Saints all offseason have shown signs that they have the potential to be better than they were last year. Then the preseason hit and it just didn’t look good. Am I putting too much into what I saw in games that don’t count? Maybe. But I also don’t think there is a magical switch where players that couldn’t block air, can magically because it’s the regular season become All-Pro blockers. The offensive line is bad. That said the team bringing back Jahri Evans makes me feel better. Still Armstead is not fully healthy and Peat at best will be average at left guard in his first full game at that position. The Raiders defense is the real deal. Defensively the Saints are hoping ability outweighs youth and inexperience especially in the secondary.
It just seems to me you’re asking a lot for a team that picked up their starting RG, kicker, and pass rusher this week can get it all together against a team that believes they can compete in a division where the Super Bowl winner hails from.
The Saints will be better over the season with experience but not at the start. Raiders win 24-20.
***Listen to Gus Kattengell's Saints Report with Bruce & Jude every Friday and Monday at 7:20am, presented by Acadiana Security Plus. And catch the Saints and Raiders game here on 97.3 The Dawg this Sunday, September 11 starting with the pre-game at 10:00am and kick-off at noon, with your calls and comments after the game.***