Running back Jalen Richard and Quarterback Derek Carr
As the Oakland Raiders prepared for their Week 1 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, we highlighted five questions that we were hoping to get answered Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In what turned into a thrilling season opener, the Raiders toppled the Saints 35-34, and returned home to the Bay Area with a win in tow.
With the Raiders now sitting at 1-0 for the first time since 2011, let's take a look at those five questions, and see if they were answered.
1. Can the run defense get back on track?
While the Raiders defense wasn't able to limit Brees and the Saints offense through the air, the group was able to keep the New Orleans rushing attack in check during Sunday's road win.
In total, the Saints ran the ball 22 times, totaling 88 yards, but could not find the end zone on the ground. Running back Mark Ingram paced the Saints on the ground, carrying the ball 12 times for 58 yards, and was kept relatively quiet throughout the afternoon, excluding one 17-yard gallop.
Yes, Brees and the Saints aerial attack looked impressive, but Ken Norton, Jr.'s group was able to keep the Saints one-dimensional, and put the offense in position to win the game in the final moments.
2. How does the team deal with the absence of defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.?
In the first regular season game without the benefit of Edwards along the defensive line, Khalil Mack and rookie Jihad Ward were the starting defensive ends, while Stacy McGee and Justin Ellis earned the start along the interior line.
Mack and Ward played a majority of the defensive snaps in Sunday's win over the Saints – 66 and 47 respectively – and while the All-Pro defensive end had a relatively quiet season debut, the focus the Saints defense put on him allowed linebacker Bruce Irvin and Ward to get after the quarterback.
The Raiders only brought down Drew Brees once in Sunday's win, but the depth along the defensive line figures to be one of the team's strengths going forward, especially if Edwards can return to the field at some point.
3. How does Latavius Murray look?
Murray looked solid in his first extended run since last season, finishing the game with 14 carries for 59 yards, and one touchdown.
His first touchdown of the season was an impressive one, as he took a handoff from Carr, lowered his shoulder, and bulldozed his way six yards into the end zone, giving the Raiders an early 10-3 lead over the Saints.
While Murray did average a quality 4.2 yards per carry in Sunday's win, his production was just a portion of the 167 yards the Silver and Black racked up on the ground. Rookie running back Jalen Richard added 84 rushing yards, Carr added 16, and DeAndré Washington also had 14 on the ground.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been ardent that he wants to dominate the line of scrimmage, and run the ball with authority, and now that the Raiders have a legitimate stable of running backs, that could certainly be the case going forward.
4. Can the Raiders limit Drew Brees?
Well, in short, not really.
Brees is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and he certainly looked the part Sunday afternoon, completing 28 of 42 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns, including a franchise record 98-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.
"I told him after the game, I said, 'Drew, I'm such a huge fan,'" said Carr postgame. "That's what I said. I said, 'I am such a huge fan of yours. The pressure you put on my 25-year-old heart was not nice. That's not cool.' Just to watch him operate, watch him work, and it's kind of surreal to be on the same field as him, because I'm still a fan. I'm still just a football fan, so to be out there with him, and competing against him, it's crazy. Obviously, you don't want to say it's fun to watch, because you want him to do bad, but at the same time, you have to respect greatness, and he's going to be a first ballot Fall of Famer, Super Bowl champ."
There's no doubt about it, Brees was indeed great Sunday, but Carr and the Raiders still found a way to take down the Saints, and return home from the Big Easy with a big win.
5. How will the team handle the Week 1 jitters?
Priority number one for the Raiders was to fly home with a win, and that's exactly what they did Sunday afternoon.
As far as the penalties the team accrued throughout the afternoon, the Raiders ended the day with 14 for 141 yards, but only two of those penalties occurred before the snap.
"I thought we fought through and made plays," Del Rio said. "There are so many different things that you want of them, obviously. There are many different things that we will need to clean up and do better going forward."
At the end of the day, the Silver and Black opened the season in an incredibly hostile environment and found a way to secure a win.
Jitters or not, that's the most important takeaway from the team's game in the Superdome.