RB Taiwan Jones, shown here wearing #36, races down the sideline against the Saints during the 2011 preseason. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Raiders will host the New Orleans Saints at O.co Coliseum in 2012 Week 11 action, presented by USAA. Head Coach Dennis Allen will face his former team for the first time. Coach Allen was an assistant coach with the Saints for five seasons - assistant defensive line coach (2006-07) and defensive backs coach (2008-10). "I started coaching in the National Football League in Atlanta, but really I grew up in the National Football League in New Orleans," said Coach Allen. "I got a lot of good memories there. We were able to win a championship, so it was a big part of my development as a coach."
The two teams first met in 1971, have faced off 11 times and are tied 5-5-1 in the all-time series record. The Saints started the 2012 season 0-4, but have bounced back to win four out of their last five games, most recently beating the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons. "They're a good football team," said Coach Allen. "Obviously they didn't start the season the way they wanted to, but the way that they've played over the last five weeks, they've played exceptionally well. It's obviously going to be a tough challenge going against that team. We've got our work cut out for us."
The Raiders understand the importance of Sunday's game against New Orleans. "It's going to be a big matchup for us," said QB Carson Palmer. "We get a chance to get back and play at home. They've won four out of five. They need a win with how their season started off. We need a win desperately. They can score a lot of points and we know we have to score a lot of points to keep up with them. It's going to be an exciting game. I can't wait to get to Sunday."
After the loss in Baltimore, the Silver and Black want to bounce back in Week 11 and recognize that they need to put in a lot of work to do so. "Practice hard, and practice like you play," said LB Miles Burris. "It sounds cliché, and I've heard it since I started playing the game, but it's just as true as I've ever heard. Your best practice weeks are your best game weeks."
Veteran CB Ron Bartell wants his defense to rebound from the Ravens game. "Learn from it, correct the mistakes, embrace the mistakes that we made and realize we have some work to do," said Bartell. "You don't forget it, but you have to move on. Everybody's just got to put it behind them, focus on their job, their responsibility, their technique and not try to do too much and I think we'll be fine."
The Raiders defense will face another tough quarterback this week in Drew Brees, who is currently leading the NFL in passing yards with 2,847 yards for the 2012 season. "He's the ultimate competitor," said Coach Allen on Brees. "The way he prepares is as good as anybody I've seen. He's got outstanding football instincts and intelligence and he's as accurate a passer as I've seen. I've got a lot of respect for Drew Brees. I think he's not only a heck of a quarterback, but a heck of a person too."
Palmer also has a lot of respect for Brees. "He's just a great quarterback," said Palmer. "He's good at it all. He can throw it deep; he can throw it short, intermediate. He understands what defenses are trying to do to him. He checks the ball down when he's supposed to and he takes his shots when he's supposed to."
Brees has a good supporting cast to help him get the job done. "They have big, physical targets," said Palmer. "Jimmy Graham is a big guy. Marques Colston is 6'5", looks like a tight end. When guys aren't open, they still make plays on the ball. He throws it up and gives guys 50/50 chances and it seems like every time those guys come down with the ball. He understands the strength of the guys around him and utilizes those guys' strengths."
The Raiders defense will have their hands full with the wide receivers, Graham and a strong set of running backs, including Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory. "We've just got to go out there and execute better than we have been doing," said Burris. "We're running the same things, but we've got to go execute it."
The Saints offense is fourth in the NFL in yards per game and second in passing yards per game. "They're a huge challenge," said Bartell. "They've played together for so long together in that offense, they're very comfortable with one another. Drew Brees is one of the better quarterbacks in this league, top one, two, three quarterbacks in the league. It's going to be a challenge for us but we look forward to it. Hopefully we can stop them."
The defensive line will have to contend with a Saints offensive line that has allowed the seventh-fewest sacks. "They've done a pretty good job this year," said DT Desmond Bryant. "Coach was saying that Brees has only been sacked on three percent of his drop-backs all season. Obviously they're doing a good job in pass-protection, so we want to try to do some things to try and change that this weekend."
The front line wants to put pressure on Brees and slow down his passing offense. "Drew Brees is a great player," said Bryant. "He's done a lot of great things over the years. Especially this year again, he's playing at a really high level. We have to go out and execute our game plan. There are only two plays they can run, a run or a pass. We've got to be able to stop the run and stop the pass. That's what we're going to try to do."
The defense is careful not to focus too much on the pass when the Saints run game can be just as dangerous. RB Darren Sproles, who missed time with a broken hand, returned to practice this week. "You can't go into any game and overlook the running game," said Coach Allen. "I think that's one of the reasons why they've really improved as a football team is they've run the ball a lot better over the last few games. They've got a talented group of backs. They're very solid up front in what they do in blocking and so I think that helps them as far as their offense. When they're able to run the ball and throw the ball it makes them that much more formidable."
Sproles adds another dimension to the Saints already dangerous offense. "I think he's an exceptional talent," said Coach Allen. "He's a good runner and he's outstanding out of the backfield, so he presents a lot of matchup challenges. Obviously that's a huge plus for them to be able to have him back."
The Raiders offense wants to be efficient and keep the Saints offense off of the field. "We're going to come in and execute our game plan, know that it's a better defense than it looks statistically on paper," said Palmer. "They still have four good guys that can rush the passer. They're very experienced on the back end in the secondary and they have very good linebacker corps, one of the better linebacker corps we've faced. We want to go out and execute the plays we've put in during the game because of what we've seen on film during the week. We need to go out and execute our jobs in that case."
New Orleans' defense has improved with the return of LB Jonathan Vilma. "I think it really comes down to guys just executing and tackling better," said Coach Allen. "They play extremely hard and they've done a nice job of getting guys to the ball. I'm sure as you look at it with [Jonathan] Vilma coming back, that's really helped their defense too."
The Raiders offensive line wants to play cleaner football against the Saints. "We've got to play mistake-free," said G Mike Brisiel. "They're obviously athletic. They're a good group of guys who are very active. I think it's more about us sticking to what we do and trying to play mistake-free, and doing what we do."
The offense wants to establish the run game and make their offense multi-dimensional. "I think it's staying committed to it," said Brisiel. "Everyone's got to work on their craft, and just basically do what we do."
RB Jeremy Stewart, who was signed from the practice squad on November 10 and had his first NFL carries against the Ravens, wants to get out there in his second game and execute. "It's more about us," said Stewart. "We have to make sure we execute, everyone knowing their job and going out there doing what they have to do."