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QB: Drew Brees continues to his Hall of Fame career, compiling otherworldly numbers. In 2015, he led the league in passing yards (4,870) and finished second in completion percentage (68.3). Brees, for all of his accuracy will still take shots vertically, as witness by the 2,464 air yards (distance the ball travels before being caught) and his 7.7 yards per attempt. Oakland needs to clog passing lanes, forcing the barely six-foot Brees to move around. Pressure will be crucial. The Raiders pass rush cannot solely rely on Khalil Mack. Passive defense play will end this game in the Saints’ favor by the second quarter.
RB: The Saints will go with the ultra-bland combination of Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower. Each is effective, but lack breakaway speed. They will attempt to batter Oakland between the tackles. C.J. Spiller is a third down back with home run burst but has trouble staying healthy
WR: Brandin Cooks is a pure speedster. Don’t look for intricate double moves. Amerson and Smith need to manhandle him. Brandon Coleman is the polar opposite. He is a gigantic wideout (6’6”) that uses his body to shield defenders. Envision a basketball player boxing out an opponent.
OL: New Orleans’ offensive line starts and ends with LT Terron Armstead. He is a top-tier blocker, mixing freakish athleticism with improving technique. He has the quickness to mirror Mack and the strength to thwart a bull rush. Khalil Mack gets tested from the first snap through the final whistle here. Armstead affords Brees the ability to pick apart opponents. If Mack gets to Brees, he’s earned it.
DL: The Saints will utilize a mammoth 4-3 scheme. Rarely, you will see teams employ a four man front that averages over 290 pounds. The Saints front four will use the power approach. The man to watch is RE Cameron Jordan. Jordan will face Donald Penn on a regular basis. Penn should stop any attempts to bully. The problem arises when Jordan gets to the outside. His size (287 pounds) belies his speed. Jordan can get into a tackle’s chest, get him to lean, and disengage to make a play.
LB: Honestly, Dannell Ellerbee and James Laurinaitis are fundamentally sound linebackers. Neither will make splash plays, but will rack up tackles. The player to watch is second year LB Stephone Anthony. Anthony led all rookies in tackles (112) Where he stands out on film is the decisiveness he displays when taking on blockers. He will not dance, but simply engage and defeat quickly.
DB: Delvin Breaux is the best cornerback many fans never heard of. (Delvin Breaux) Breaux’s story in a nutshell: He was a top high school recruit, signed with LSU, broke three vertebrae in his neck, and never played college ball. Breaux started with the Bayou Vipers, a developmental team, making his way to the CFL. New Orleans signed Breaux in January 2015.
Breaux is a battler on the field. While most corners will either succeed and bump and run or off coverage, he can do both. When he does initiate contact in those five yards, his goal is to guide and redirect the receiver. Extra steps during a route can disrupt timing and allows Breaux to the opportunity to break on the ball. Amari Cooper is in for a long day. Breaux will stay with him and force Cooper to work for separation.
New Orleans will provide the Raiders an immediate problem in Week 1. Their combination of savvy, speed and play-making on both sides of the ball are clearly noticeable. A Raiders road win here, would start the season off perfectly. This match-up suits the Raiders. Quality opponents are the most accurate gauge of a team.