The Pre-Snap Read is a weekly preview of the coming Saints game day focused on the most exciting headlines and star players, a breakdown of the head-to-head matchups, keys to victory, a look inside the division, and bonus commentary.
On the Air
New Orleans Saints (1-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (1-0)
Monday, Sept. 21, 7:15 p.m.
TV: ESPN/ABC WGNO 26
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM
Raiders & Road Warriors
The Saints travel west this week to play the Raiders in the opening of the $1.84 billion Allegiant Stadium on Monday Night Football in the franchise’s first game in Las Vegas. The Saints have gone 7-1 on the road in the past two seasons and are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2013.
Despite their 34-23 season opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans will be looking to improve its offensive output and eliminate costly defensive penalties.
On the bright side, Alvin Kamara had a big game to match his $75 million payday earlier in the week. He had a rushing and receiving touchdown – and had one called back when he stepped out of bounds a hair’s width before the goal line. In his first game as a Saint, receiver Emmanuel Sanders scored a touchdown and became the 70th player to catch a TD pass from Brees.
But there were signs that the offense may have been a little rusty and not quite up to game speed following the pandemic compliant offseason. With 18 completions on 30 attempts (60.0%) for 160 yards and two touchdowns, Saints QB Drew Brees didn’t put up numbers that have become expected of him. Even more eye opening, the Bucs held the Saints starting receivers – Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Tre’Quan Smith – to seven receptions for 36 yards.
The defense and special teams, which provided two interceptions – including CB Janoris Jenkins’ pick six – a blocked field goal, and fumble recovery, looked like they were in midseason form and pushed the Saints to victory.
“Offensively, that was probably as bad of a game as I have had as a play caller, just trying to find a rhythm and a tempo,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said after the Bucs game. “It was awful. There will be a lot that we have to correct and clean up. There always is after the first week of the regular season.”
There’s an old NFL adage that says teams make the most improvement between the first two weeks of the season. That will be easier said than done. Thomas, who last season set the NFL single season record for receptions with 149 catches, suffered a high ankle sprain against Tampa and is expected to miss several weeks. It will take all of the Saints skill players to step up and play big to keep the offense moving. They proved last year that they can do that, going undefeated in the five games Brees missed due to an injured throwing hand.
Payton and Las Vegas Head Coach Jon Gruden are friends who served on Philadelphia’s coaching staff in 1997. They have a tight camaraderie; Gruden was Payton’s guest at the coach’s celebration at Ruth’s Chris the night of their NFC Championship win. “Chucky” has remade his team’s roster in two years at the helm and improved the Silver & Black from 4-12 to 7-9. His philosophy is to run with power with a multiple tight end set and a high-percentage completion passer, and he wants to increase his team’s speed.
The Raiders had all they could handle on the road against the rebuilding Panthers, needing a late fourth quarter TD and fourth-down stop with less than two minutes to go to secure the win. Against Carolina, Vegas QB Derek Carr was 22/30 (73.3%) for 239 yards and a TD. Running back Josh Jacobs had 93 yards on 25 carries and three scores. Rookie WR Henry Ruggs III had three catches for 55 yards, including a 45-yard catch and run.
At the Line of Scrimmage
When the Saints have the ball
The Saints have a great offensive line and the playmakers to keep the chains moving. Their task will be more difficult with Thomas out of action, but handling running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray; wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders; tight ends Jared Cook; and “Swiss Army Knife” Taysom Hill is a formidable task for any defense.
The Raiders gave up 30 to the Panthers, projected by most experts as the least talented team in the NFC South. Their secondary is young and will have to match wits with Brees’ 20 years of NFL know how.
When the Raiders have the ball
The Raiders have one of the AFC’s best O Lines and Jacobs, who gained 1,150 yards in 14 games last season, is a solid back. Carr is a good, not great, QB and will be challenged by an aggressive Saints defensive front and a secondary that some experts are calling the best in the league. He will look to get WR Darren Waller, who had 90 catches for 1,145 yards in 2019, more involved in the game plan.
Goal to Geaux
The keys to a Saints victory rely on getting the offense up to speed while making up for Thomas’ absence and putting the Raiders’ offensive success on Carr’s shoulders. The Saints D held the Bucs to 86 yards rushing and sacked QB Tom Brady three times. They will look to bottle up Jacobs and replicate that pressure on Carr, while not giving up big pass interference penalties. On offense, the Saints have to improve on third down and in the red zone. They’ve got the horses; they just need to get up to speed.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 1
- After one game, the New Orleans Saints sit atop the NFC South following their 34-23 season opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and losses by the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. But there is a lot for the team to clean up. While the defensive front and special teams played a great game, the offense was anemic and the secondary, while snatching two interceptions, gave up critical pass interference penalties that led to Buccaneers scores.
- It was the first game, and, without the preseason, the offense will, understandably, take some time to jell. Drew appeared very un-Drew, but he fared better than Bucs’ QB Tom Brady, who completed 23 of 36 pass attempts for 239 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, including a pick six by Saints CB Janoris Jenkins.
- Hats off to defensive end Margus Hunt, who blocked a 54-yard field goal attempt, and receiver Bennie Fowler, who recovered a muffed kickoff that set up a 21-yard field goal. Both players were activated from the practice squad before the game.
Quotes of the Week
“I played awful.” – Brees on his Week 1 performance
“The turnover was lagniappe.” – Payton using local vernacular to describe Bennie Fowler’s recovery of the Bucs’ botched kickoff reception
“It sort of felt like we were at a Tampa Bay game.” – Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan on playing the Buccaneers in an COVID-compliant empty Superdome
Brees added another NFL career record to his resume when he became the NFL’s all-time leader in pass attempts, surpassing Brett Favre’s 10,169 attempts. He now holds and is adding to the league records for career completions (6,885), attempts (10,191), passing yards (77,576), and touchdown passes (549).
He also has the longest streak of regular season games throwing at least one touchdown pass (54) and single-season completion percentage (74.4) in NFL history.
Inside the NFC South
W L T %
New Orleans Saints 1 0 0 1.0
Atlanta Falcons 0 1 0 0.0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0 1 0 0.0
Carolina Panthers 0 1 0 0.0
Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
Falcons QB Matt Ryan went 37/54 for 450 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT against Seattle last week, with three receivers each having 110+ yard days. Still it wasn’t enough to top the Seahawks, who were in control the entire game, and their 38 points.
Dallas expected an offensive explosion but stalled when it mattered most. While Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries and three receivers combined for 190 yards on 18 receptions, Dallas went 3 of 12 on third down and scored two TDs and a field goal in four red-zone possessions. While the Rams offense wasn’t much better, they put up 422 yards and 20 points on the Cowboys’ D.
Dallas is, rightly, favored at home, but Atlanta has the fire power to keep it interesting.
Carolina Panthers (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)
Even with a new head coach, Matt Rhule; offensive coordinator, Joe Brady; and QB, Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina gave the Raiders a scare last week. RB Christian McCaffrey is always dangerous, but the Panthers’ almost entirely new defense needs time in their rebuild.
Tom Brady was not happy with his Week 1 performance, and there’s no doubt that he turned up the intensity at practice this week. Tampa’s defense played the Saints’ offense well. Expect another solid defensive game and an offense with something to prove.
The Extra Point: Dome Sweet Home
With the opening of the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles last Sunday and the $1.8 billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas this coming Monday, the NFL has two new sparkling jewels in its crown.
It makes sense for the league to have a presence in the nation’s second largest city and one of the world’s favorite good-timing tourist destinations. But the opening of these arenas comes at a cost to fans in Oakland, Saint Louis, and San Diego, the cities these teams previously called home.
Franchises relocating to other cities has happened since the inception of the NFL, more than a century ago. Moving isn’t even new to these teams. The Oakland Raiders were founded in 1960 but left the Bay Area for L.A. in 1982 after they couldn’t get the stadium upgrades the wanted. They moved back in 1995 after Oakland agreed to stadium renovations Los Angeles wouldn’t agree to. They’re relocating again this year because they couldn’t make a deal to share, renovate or build a new stadium in northern California. The Chargers and Rams both previously played in L.A., so in a sense it is a homecoming for both teams. That doesn’t take away from the fact that established fan bases in Oakland, San Diego and Saint Louis won’t have football in their cities for now or the seeable future.
Saints fans know the gut-wrenching feeling of the prospect of losing their team. We had to face it in the dismal days after Hurricane Katrina. But we never had to go through the grief of seeing our team move to another city. The Saints are renowned for having one of the best fan bases in all of sports. I’m glad the city, the state, the NFL, and the Bensons worked together to ensure we have the New Orleans Saints. In this era of COVID, we’ve had to adjust to not being able to attend Saints games, but I couldn’t imagine what fall would be like if the Superdome was truly empty on fall Sundays.