Dealing with several injuries to starters, the Oakland Raiders will put their season on the line against the New Orleans Saints Sunday. Both teams are in desperate need of a victory to keep their postseason hopes alive. At 3-6, Oakland must find a way to slow down a potent Saints offense and execute to score points in what could turn into a shootout.
Quarterback Carson Palmer will be required to carry the offensive load for the Raiders again. Because of their lack of a rushing attack, the Raiders have forced Palmer to move the offense all season. He has done a tremendous job leading Oakland to a top five ranking in passing offense at 288.9 yard per game. For the season, Palmer has 2,723 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has already attempted 375 passes, completing 200. He will have his opportunities against a New Orleans defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is dealing with a hamstring injury and will be a game time decision. In his absence, Derek Hagan will step into the starting spot for Oakland. Denarius Moore will start opposite Hagan with rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater filling out the wide receiver position. All are capable of making plays, especially Moore, who Palmer will rely on to separate from the Saints' defensive backs. Tight end Brandon Myers has also become a reliable weapon for Palmer especially in the fourth quarter. All of the Oakland receivers will need to execute their routes and give Palmer chances to stretch the field and convert first downs. The Raiders will need score touchdowns and take advantage of their red zone opportunities if they want to keep pace with a dangerous Saints offense.
Running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have both been ruled out for Sunday with high ankle sprains. That means for the second consecutive week Oakland will rely of fullback Marcel Reece to start and carry the rushing load. In order for the Raiders to keep the New Orleans offense off the field and give the defense a chance to rest, they must be able to run effectively. Reece is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield and if the Raiders are willing to be creative, he can provide match-up nightmares for the Saints. Second year man Taiwan Jones will spell Reece as a change of pace back. He has yet to earn the confidence of the coaching staff, but has the speed to become a factor. New Orleans is last in the league defending against the run.
Defensively, the Raiders will have their work cut out for them against a Saints passing attack ranked 2nd in the NFL averaging 303.9 yards per game. Oakland has had their difficulties stopping the pass this season and will need to play disciplined football to slow down New Orleans. Quarterback Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around to a plethora of receivers and backs. That will be a strain on the Oakland linebackers and secondary. Because Brees has such a quick release, it will be difficult for the Raiders to blitz him. That mean the front four, playing without Richard Seymour, must get pressure.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch is also a game time decision with a neck injury. He usually is tasked with covering opposing tight ends. If he cannot go, the Raiders will start Mike Mitchell and use a committee to slow down New Orleans' tight end Jimmy Graham. At 6-7, Graham was great size and commands respect in the middle of the field and the red zone. The Saints will also use Marques Colston (6-4, 225 pounds) in the slot to further the match-up problems. Running back Darren Sproles has a chance to play against the Raiders after a hand injury forced him to miss the last two games. Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris will have to play in coverage and execute their assignments to contain these playmakers.
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