Saints vs. Raiders: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Oakland

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystNovember 17, 2012

The Raiders should forget about Reece on Sunday despite plenty of good options in the passing game.
The Raiders should forget about Reece on Sunday despite plenty of good options in the passing game.Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The Oakland Raiders are the last of the AFC West teams to play the New Orleans Saints. Normally that would be a good thing; unfortunately, the Saints started slowly and are now playing their best football of the season.

With a depleted secondary, the Raiders have to figure out how to stop Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a requirement if the Raiders want to win the game and move to 4-6 on the season.

Since the Saints' defense is allowing nearly 500 yards per game, the Raiders should be able to do whatever they want on offense. Although it’s not a preferable solution, the Raiders could just try to outscore the Saints to win the game. The outcome would then probably be decided by whichever team had the ball last.

The Raiders certainly haven’t been good on defense in 2012, but they’ve done well enough against passing teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers to think they have a chance of at least slowing the Saints down on Sunday.


Graham and Sproles

This is an example that I’ve used before on how to slow down Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. Take those two players out of the equation and you have a much better chance at beating the Saints.

Sproles is listed as questionable, so the Raiders may not have to worry about him. The Saints have done a good job making his status uncertain enough for the Raiders to game-plan for him.

The Chiefs actually did a good job of slowing down Graham and Sproles in Week 3. Graham had four catches for 16 yards and Sproles had no catches at all. Sproles did have seven carries for 62 yards, but the bulk of the rushing duties will be split between the Saints other running backs in Week 11. If Sproles plays, they likely will not want him taking a pounding between the tackles.

This play is actually a completion to Graham, but it is a very good example of what the Chiefs did to limit Graham and Sproles.  Right off the bat, you should notice Eric Berry in the box covering Sproles. Since Sproles serves as mostly a receiver, it makes sense to counter with an athletic safety in coverage.

As far as Graham goes, the Chiefs are going to bracket him with a linebacker and a safety. The linebacker will drop from the inside and the safety will provide help over the top.

Unfortunately, Derrick Johnson (56) and the safety aren't quite in position to make a play on the ball and Brees delivers it perfectly.

Brees puts the pass right on Graham and he makes the tough catch. The lesson here is that you can do everything right and Brees is still going to get completions, but as a whole, this coverage scheme limited the Saints to just 24 points and allowed the lowly Chiefs win in overtime.

The Raiders can do something similar with Mike Mitchell on Sproles and Philip Wheeler and Matt Giordano in tandem coverage on Graham. The alternative is putting a safety like Mitchell directly on Graham and that’s likely what should happen if Sproles isn’t able to play.


Palmer’s Place

Without much of a running game to speak of, the Raiders have had to rely on Carson Palmer this season. If things go sour defensively the Raiders will need Palmer and the offense to keep them in the game.

The record for yards allowed in a season is 6793 by the 1981 Baltimore Colts. That team allowed 424.6 yards per game and the Saints are allowing 469.3 yards per game. As you might expect the Saints are on pace to break the record by a wide margin.

There is no good reason Palmer and the Raiders can’t get something going against a defense this bad even with the injuries on offense. The Saints are allowing over 300 yards per game through the air and the Raiders are averaging 288.9 yards per game passing. It would seem the Raiders are primed for a big passing day.

Palmer and the Raiders should avoid Jabari Greer and tread lightly around Roman Harper in the passing game. Attacking Malcolm Jenkins, Patrick Robinson and Curtis Lofton seems to be the best course of action.


Run Reece

If ever there was a time for the Raiders to start running the ball, this would be the time. The Saints have the NFL’s worst run defense and are allowing 162.0 yards per game. The Raiders have the NFL’s 31st ranked running game in yards per game and yards per carry. In a battle of two of the worst, one has to be productive.

In recent weeks, Greg Knapp’s outside zone has disappeared and a more traditional man-blocking scheme has been used. With fullback Marcel Reece starting at running back, the Raiders can’t afford to run the more complex zone scheme.

Reece is a weapon in the passing game, but he was also fairly productive on the ground in Week 10 with 14 carries for 48 yards in the blowout loss the Baltimore Ravens.

Reece could stand to get more carries in what could be wet conditions at Coliseum. As long as the game is close, the Raiders should give the ball to Reece and see what he can do with it.

The Saints have been particularly vulnerable to runs to the outside that force the players in the secondary to make a tackle and get off a block. A good way to run it might be from the shotgun formation, because the Raiders are likely to spend much of the day passing.

When the Panthers played the Saints, DeAngelo Williams took a handoff around left end from the shotgun and scampered around the left edge for a big gain. The Panthers pulled the left guard and the center had to get to the second level to make his block.

Williams gets excellent blocking from his receivers and the pulling guard escorted him all the way down the field. 

It took Jenkins getting around the blocker at the end of the play to save a touchdown, but the damage was already done. The Raiders shouldn’t forget that Reece can run the ball, even if getting him involved in the running game requires running out of the shotgun formation.


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