Week 11 Game Preview: Saints vs. Raiders

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Drew Brees prepares to pass vs Seahawks in 2011 NFC wildcard

By Kelly Bailey [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The New Orleans Saints head west to Oakland for a Week 11 faceoff between two teams that unquestionably need to win. The 4-5 Saints will be attempting to thrust themselves more firmly into the NFC's crowded battle for a playoff slot, by winning for the fifth time in six games. Meanwhile the 3-6 Raiders desperately need a win to keep their fledging postseason hopes alive, and stop their season from thoroughly and permanently unraveling.

But that is hardly the only similarity between these two teams. Both units rank among the NFL’s five most prolific passing offenses, as New Orleans’ 304 YPG is the second highest average among all teams, while Oakland’s average of 289 places them fifth overall. As proficient as each team has been in generating yardage with their passing attacks, they each have sizable inadequacies when attempting to neutralize opponents from launching an aerial assault against them.  Oakland ranks just 24th in pass defense, and is permitting 256 YPG. Meanwhile, New Orleans is an unsightly next to last in the same category, and yields 307 YPG.

The fact that a discussion about New Orleans can even include the notion of a .500 record hardly seemed plausible after an inauspicious 0-4 September that was punctuated by a home loss to lowly Kansas City. But nobody has been able to crack the code on how to neutralize Brees. He is now tied for the league lead with 25 TD passes, which has been accomplished by amassing at least 300 yards in five different contests. His average of 316 YPG also places him first among all QBs, and his season total of 2,847 yards is also the NFL’s best. Brees is easily on pace for his seventh consecutive season with at least 4,000 yards, and he could match last year’s career best of 5,476.

While the New Orleans rushing attack ranks just 28th overall, it has improved significantly in their two most recent contests. That has been fueled by the insertion of Chris Ivory into the lineup, along with increased utilization of a seemingly renewed Mark Ingram. The tandem has infused a level of explosiveness that had been lacking. First they helped the Saints easily surpass their season average of just 88 YPG by amassing 140 yards in Week 9, then gashed Atlanta for a whopping 148 in Week 10. Both have earned their place within the team’s veritable conga line of runners, even though dynamic Darren Sproles will also return after a two game absence. How they will all be employed is in question, and provides the Raiders with another headache both in their preparation, and their in-game execution.

The Raiders possess several massive deficiencies, which force them to be extremely reliant upon Carson Palmer. Their 31st ranked rushing attack is extremely inept, and their issue laden defensive unit has been  unable to neutralize opponents. In fact, they have surrendered 97 points and 934 total yards in the past two weeks alone. As a result, the Raiders have been playing from behind, without a legitimate threat of manufacturing yardage on the ground. That combination has resulted in Palmer throwing the NFL’s second highest number of passes (375), including 45+ in five different contests. He has also nearly generated the same level of yardage per game as Brees (303). With the disappointing yet uniquely gifted Darren McFadden sidelined again this week, Palmer must take to the air with regularity yet again in order for Oakland to have any chance of winning.

Both teams definitely need to a victory, and should each generate a considerable amount of yardage in attempting to achieve it. The factor that could easily make the difference, is that Oakland is one dimensional offensively, while New Orleans has suddenly removed itself from also existing in that category. The Saints will still rely upon their high octane passing attack. But their newfound balance could easily determine the outcome in what will undoubtedly be a high scoring contest.