ReFo: Saints @ Raiders, Week 11
Many around the league certainly did, but they’re right back in the thick of the NFC playoff picture after their 38-17 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders. They’ve now won three straight games to get back to .500 after their early season funk. Despite their tackling woes, the defense has shown signs of life in recent weeks and their second-half turnaround will depend heavily on its progress. Offensively, the Saints continued their re-dedication to the running game as their stable of backs appear ready to complement quarterback Drew Brees and the potent passing game.
While the Saints are surging, the Raiders have now lost their third straight game, giving up 135 points (45.0 per game) in the process. In addition to the defense’s struggles, untimely offensive mistakes put them in a hole early in this game. At 3-7 and with a roster depleted by injuries, the Raiders have reached play-out-the-string mode earlier than they would have liked here in 2012.
Let’s take a look at the game’s notable performances.
Three Performances of Note—New Orleans Saints
The Saints did a nice job of getting their hands on QB Carson Palmer’s passes and it all started with the cornerbacks. The top three, Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson and Elbert Mack defended more passes (six) than had completed on them (five). The trio was targeted 16 times with only 48 yards to show for it. Robinson was the best of the bunch as he gave up one measly yard on his five targets. He set the tone as he nearly intercepted Palmer’s first pass of the day on a go route. Though Palmer was able to do some damage against the linebackers and safeties, the cornerbacks were a big part of holding him to only two of eight throwing outside the numbers beyond 10 yards.
Offensive Line Dominates
It was an efficient day for the Saints’ offense that only saw Brees drop back 27 times. The offensive line did a tremendous job as he was hurried only three times and hit the turf only twice (only one hit was charged to the offensive line). Left tackle Jermon Bushrod, RG Jahri Evans, and RT Charles Brown were all perfect in pass protection, while even backup right tackle Bryce Harris was unblemished in his 14 attempts after taking over for the injured Brown. In the running game, only Brown graded negatively among the starters as the big boys up front paved the way for 153 yards on 28 carries on the ground. Though the entire group played well, Bushrod stood out as he controlled Raiders defensive ends and linebackers to the tune of a +4.9 overall grade for the day.
Lofton’s Slump Continues
Expected to shore up the middle of the Saints’ defense, linebacker Curtis Lofton has been a bit of a disappointment through 10 games. The Saints have struggled with tackling all season and, despite the lopsided win, this game was no different with regard to their inability to take down ballcarriers. Lofton contributed two of the team’s 11 missed tackles and his season total of 12 is now one more than he had all of last year. After ranking 12th among inside linebackers in tackling efficiency in 2011, Lofton is currently 28th out of 35 qualifiers as he’s missing one tackle every 7.8 attempts. Lofton has represented a slight improvement for the Saints at the middle linebacker position, but he needs to get back closer to his 2011 form if they hope to make a second-half surge.
Three Performances of Note—Oakland Raiders
Lost in the blowout is Marcel Reece’s (+3.1) continued development into one of the most versatile weapons in the league. There aren’t many players who can line up at running back, fullback, tight end, and wide receiver, but Reece has found a way to make an impact no matter where he is aligned. He made the most of his career-high 19 carries, picking up 103 yards, 85 of which came after contact. He’s always been a difficult cover and this game was no different as he caught four of the five balls thrown his way for 90 yards. With 5:15 to go in the second quarter, Reece lined up in the slot and beat safety Roman Harper on an out route and turned the short pass into a 56-yard gain. This proved to be the longest play of the game for either team. Reece was likely the best player on the field for the Raiders on Sunday.
Despite collecting nine tackles, it was a rough day for LB Miles Burris (-5.4) in all phases of the game. He was assaulted by Saints linemen at the second level in the running game, though he still managed to get in on four stops. Burris’ real struggles came in the passing game as he allowed all eight targets to be completed for 63 yards. He was a part of the miscommunication that led to a wide-open Jimmy Graham on the Saints’ first touchdown, and he allowed three other first downs on throws his way. Burris also picked up two of the Raiders’ five missed tackles as his rookie season struggles continue.
Myers Drops the Ball
For the second time in three weeks, tight end Brandon Myers (-3.2) picked up two drops in a game. The first drop proved costly as the Raiders were looking to cap off a 16-play, almost nine-minute drive with a touchdown, but Myers could not haul in Palmer’s pass in the end zone. Instead of six points, the ball deflected off Myers’ hands, right into Harper’s waiting arms. It wasn’t much better in other phases as Myers surrendered two hurries on his seven snaps as a pass blocker and he struggled blocking the Saints’ defensive ends in the running game.
– The Saints had 17 defensive players play at least 20 snaps each.
– When he was not pressured, Carson Palmer completed only 11 of 24 passes for 184 yards and a PFF grade of -2.1.
– Burris and safety Michael Mitchell were the only two Raiders to play all 58 snaps on defense.
PFF Game Ball
Jermon Bushrod gets the nod on the strength of a perfect day in pass protection and strong play in the running game.
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