Raiders vs. Saints: Where Does Each Team Hold the Favorable Matchup?

Nicholas Cothrel
Raiders offense Henry Ruggs III

The Las Vegas Raiders’ offense got off to a great start to kick off the 2020 season, but with a Week 2 contest against the New Orleans Saints, they’ll face a tough task ahead.

The Raiders’ offense kicked off the 2020 season with a bang, hanging 34 points against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. That’s more points than they scored in any contest throughout the 2019 season. After a brilliant offensive showcase, the Raiders will face a tough task in hosting the New Orleans Saints’ veteran defense.

raiders offense Janoris Jenkins New Orleans saints
Janoris Jenkins will be a tough competitor for the high-powered Raiders offense.

Last week, the Saints played host to the highly coveted free-agent Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Defensively, the Saints held Brady and company in check, allowing 23 points and 310 net yards.

The Saints tallied two interceptions, three sacks, five tackles for loss, five pass breakups and seven quarterback hits. After New Orleans put on display the many ways they can disrupt a game, ball security for the Raiders will be pivotal as they look for success in Week 2.

Raiders’ Offense Should Play to Their Strengths

It’s no secret — the focal point of the Raiders’ offense relies on the running attack of second-year rusher Josh Jacobs. While it will be important that Derek Carr spreads the ball around to his pass-catchers to keep the Saints’ defense honest, feeding Jacobs the rock 20-plus times a game is where the Raiders’ offense is at its best.

Establishing the run first and foremost will be vital — allowing for other aspects of the offense to open up. It only took the first sequence of plays for the Raiders to take a deep shot towards Henry Ruggs III, detailing his game-changing speed in which he possesses.

“He’s as advertised,” Mike Mayock said on Monday when asked about the debut of Ruggs on The Rich Eisen Show. “Derek threw a vertical to him early in the game, which I think helped back them off a little bit. He’s everything we hoped he would be up to this point.”

Ruggs hauled in three catches for 55 yards in the first half. However, a knee injury caused him to miss a few series. While he was sidelined for just a minimal amount of time, his absence on the outside was obvious in the offensive play calling. The Raiders still moved the ball accordingly, but without Ruggs stretching the field, they lacked a true dynamic weapon to threaten the defense. In just one game, it’s well documented that his skill set is different than anything the Raiders have had since the departure of Amari Cooper.

New Wrinkle to Raiders’ Offense Could Be on Display Against Saints

The wide receiver room is highlighted by Ruggs, and he’ll get the majority of the spotlight. However, the Raiders’ offense has yet another intriguing rookie pass-catcher with Bryan Edwards playing the X receiver spot. They didn’t give him many looks in the Week 1 contest, but who’s to say that wasn’t by design? Edwards caught one pass for nine yards and was important as a blocker throughout the game.

Derek Carr could look to connect with his new big-bodied WR Bryan Edwards this week.

In college he was extremely productive, setting South Carolina school records in career receptions and career receiving yards. Entering the NFL his stock plummeted in spite of suffering a foot injury, but since showing up to training camp, the hype around the team indicates he’s well prepared to take on a significant role on offense.

“He’s very violent, he’s very aggressive in his cuts,” Carr told reporters during training camp when asked about Edwards. “He reminds me — when the ball is in the air — of Davante (Adams), great ball skills.”

Edwards also shares similarities to former Raiders’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree in that they both play a physical brand of football. Using their large frame to box out defenders for 50/50 balls in the end zone is a strength. From college to the NFL, Carr has leaned on his large receiving targets. With Edwards leaving his impression on Carr throughout training camp, his traits paint the proper picture to believe he could be the next receiver in line to be Carr’s ‘go-to’ target in the red zone.

Edwards will likely see coverage from cornerback Janoris Jenkins on Monday night. Jenkins, a veteran cornerback in his own right, recorded five interceptions in 2019. With no NFL tape on Edwards, his unpredictability will be a difficult one to match up against as this could be his coming out party on a national stage.

Continuity on Saints’ Defense Serves Them Well

The Saints defense returned eight starters from their 2019 unit. Continuity on defense is a staple in the league that often leads to consistent results.

Where the Raiders’ offense is young at the skill positions, the Saints veterans on defense play with top-notch cohesiveness. Their experience in playing with one another benefits their communication on assignments, specifically when they’re lined up in zone coverage.

raiders offense Marshon Lattimore Saints defense
Marshon Lattimore is one of the Saints anchors on defense. Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019, the Saints allowed an average of 91.3 rushing yards per game, ranking fourth in the NFL. Collectively, they ranked third in sacks with 51 in 2019. The Saints bring heavy blitz packages with regularity, so the Raiders’ running backs and tight ends may be asked to stay home more frequently to pick up defenders before they make their way into the backfield.

With Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore and Malcolm Jenkins anchoring four different positions, and doing so at a high level, they run a balanced defensive attack that plays the run and the passing game effectively.

Which Matchups Favor the Saints Defense?

With uncertainties about the Raiders’ offense at the right tackle position, the Saints could be in-line to feast off the edge if Trent Brown is unable to go. The Raiders are optimistic that he has a chance to play, according to reports, but his calf injury has limited him for the greater part of training camp.

Jordan finished third in the NFL last season with 13.5 sacks on the year. If Brown is unable to play, the Raiders will likely use Sam Young or Denzelle Good in his spot, both of which have been a journeyman in the NFL.

Good and Young both played a helping hand in keeping Carr clean in the pocket against Carolina, but Jordan brings a different ability off the edge than anything they saw in Week 1.

Like Brown, Young also experienced an injury to his groin, ruling him out for the remainder of last week’s game. Good held his own at tackle, despite playing the majority of his NFL snaps inside at the guard position. Whichever backup plugs the hole at right tackle, they’re bound to see snaps against the All-Pro pass-rusher. With that said, implementing chip blocks may become a common occurrence for the Raiders in order to refrain Jordan from busting through the offensive line.