Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 | 2 a.m.
Allowing the biggest play of the game wasn’t what bothered Raiders coach Jon Gruden most as he reviewed the game film of his team’s Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina came back to take the lead over Las Vegas midway through the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., when receiver Robby Anderson beat Raiders rookie Damon Arnette for a 75-yard touchdown reception. Those are the types of occasional, albeit aggravating, miscues Gruden expected to encounter with a young secondary.
The more concerning issue to Gruden was the way Raiders continually allowed Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to carve them up in the short passing game.
“Anytime you watch a game like that and the quarterback has time to get to his second and third look, get to the checkdowns, it’s not good enough,” Gruden said on Monday. “Our players know that. They’re capable of better.”
The Raiders had their usual off-day on Tuesday, but when preparation officially begins for Week 2 in Henderson this morning, the defense should expect to put in a lot of work against quick, short passes in practice. For the second straight week, they’re going to face a lot of them when the New Orleans Saints come to Allegiant Stadium for Monday Night Football.
The Saints’ offense has a reputation as one of the most free-flowing, aggressive attacks in football, but that hasn’t exactly been the case the last few years. It certainly wasn’t the case in New Orleans’ 34-23 Week 1 win over Tampa Bay.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw downfield even less than Bridgewater and was heavily reliant on screens, checkdowns and other passes behind the line of scrimmage. The 41-year-old’s 4.7 intended air yards per attempt tied for the third-lowest figure among NFL quarterbacks in Week 1, according to NFL NextGen stats.
None of the future Hall of Famer’s first seven passes traveled further than five yards past the line of scrimmage and he only tested his arm power sparingly for the rest of the game. Alvin Kamara was his favorite receiving option, as the running back hauled in five of nine targets for 51 yards and a touchdown.
That matches up well with what’s been recurring issue for the Raiders over the last few years, defending running backs in the passing game. They were better against the Panthers, holding Christian McCaffrey to three catches for 38 yards, but they did allow him to make two big catches on a critical drive early in the fourth quarter.
“We did some good things but also made some critical mistakes that we have to make before Drew Brees gets to town, that’s for sure,” Gruden said.
Brees has humiliated the Raiders throughout his career. The Raiders have only met the Saints twice since he’s been in New Orleans, but in those games, Brees threw for 642 yards and 9 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dating back to his time with the Chargers, Brees is 8-3 against the Raiders with 2,486 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
That ultimately doesn’t mean much, though, considering he’s never squared off against this particular set of Raiders’ personnel. And there’s an argument to be made that the Raiders have never faced him in a more advantageous position than now.
Brees’ arm strength was in question coming into the season — he’s only thrown one pass that traveled more than 35 yards from the line of scrimmage since 2017 — and the win over the Buccaneers did little to quiet that chatter. The Saints brought in change-of-pace quarterback Taysom Hill on two plays designed to open up deep passing options.
The final score obscured what was a troublesome day overall for the Saints’ offense, one where both Brees and coach/play caller Sean Payton described their performances as “awful.” New Orleans won the turnover battle against Tampa Bay by three but otherwise were the less efficient team.
The Buccaneers had edges in almost every meaningful statistical category. Through one week, New Orleans sits 30th in the NFL at 4.1 yards per play.
The Saints are also expected to be without top receiver Michael Thomas, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, on Monday night.
Now, of course, there are some caveats. For starters, the Buccaneers’ defense has far more proven talent than the Raiders.
Las Vegas should doubt the NFL’s most prolific passer of all-time at its own risk. Brees added the NFL’s all-time mark for most career pass attempts (10,169) to a number of records he already held — including most touchdown passes, most passing yards, best completion percentage — last week.
Regardless of the distance of his passes, he’s the prime attraction of the first game at Allegiant Stadium. It’s up to the Raiders to take that away from him by shoring up a pass defense that’s continued to be a weakness.