Saints at Raiders: Preview, prediction, key matchups, how to watch, stream ‘Monday Night Football’ in Week 2

We’re back for Week 2 of Monday Night Football, and it’s a special one. This will be the first home game for the Las Vegas Raiders, as the new Allegiant Stadium makes its NFL debut. As has been the case in many stadiums, fans will not be allowed to pack the stands, but it should nonetheless make for an interesting environment. 

In the interest of not delaying any further, let’s break things down. 

How to watch

Date: Monday, September 21 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas, Nevada)
ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free) 
Follow: CBS Sports App

When the Saints have the ball

The only thing we know for sure about the New Orleans Saints offense is that it’s going to look a lot different in Week 2 than it has over the past several years. The Saints enter this game without All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas, who over the past three seasons has commanded 27.7 percent, 28.2 percent, and 31.8 percent of all possible team targets. Any expectation you might have had for what this team would look like goes out the window unless and until he returns; and even then, given that he is dealing with a high-ankle sprain, things might still look different for a while. 

The question, then, is how the Saints re-orient. Do they just try to make either their No. 2 or No. 3 wideout — Emmanuel Sanders or Tre’Quan Smith — into the new Thomas and feed them 30 percent of the targets? Do they do that with tight end Jared Cook or running back Alvin Kamara? Do they try to spread the ball around fairly equally, in a departure from their usual style? 

My expectation would actually be that they lean a bit more on their running game. They’ve been moving in that direction over the past few years anyway, with Brees going from averaging 656 pass attempts per year from 2010 through 2016, to averaging just 534 (on a per-16-games basis, to account for the five games he missed last season) from 2017 through 2019. With Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to share the workload and an offensive line that is among the best in the league, that might be the most comfortable option for them — especially considering Sanders is only in his second game with this offense, Smith has never been more than a part-time player, and Cook has been inconsistent throughout his career.

In this game, though, throwing seems more likely to be the profitable strategy. The Raiders defense wasn’t very good at anything last season, but it was absolutely dreadful against the pass, ranking 31st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Things didn’t get much better in Week 1, when they allowed former Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater to throw for nearly a full yard more per attempt than his career average. Vegas’ secondary is a major issue, and considering the Raiders pressured Bridgewater on only 23 percent of his drop backs last week, it looks like the pass rush might still be as well. New Orleans has a considerably better offensive line and Brees almost never allows himself to be pressured, preferring to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible after the snap.

The Saints should even have some pretty good matchup advantages in the pass game, particularly with Cook and Kamara. Free-agent signee Nick Kwiatkoski is out for this game, robbing the Raiders of one of their better pass coverage linebackers. Fellow signee Cory Littleton is still among the league’s best coverage players at his position, but he can’t cover the tight end and running back on the same play. If Brees simply throws to the guy being covered by Not Littleton, New Orleans should be able to do some damage. 

When the Raiders have the ball

It’s difficult to imagine a week going more according to plan for the Raiders offense than it did in Week 1. Jon Gruden’s team wants to run the ball with Josh Jacobs, control the clock with short, quick-strike passes, and hit the (very) occasional big play by getting a speed guy into the open field. 

Vegas handed Jacobs the rock 25 times in the opener, and he toted it for 93 yards and three scores. Derek Carr had the league’s seventh-fastest average time to throw, per Pro Football Focus, getting the ball out in an average of 2.46 seconds. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 239 yards, with nearly half of those targets (14 of 30) being directed to Jacobs and Darren Waller. Rookie speedster Henry Ruggs broke a big play into the open field to set up one of Jacobs’ three touchdowns, and the Raiders won the time of possession battle. Perfect. 

Things should be considerably more difficult on Monday night. The Panthers had the NFL’s worst defense last season, then lost the two best players from that defense to retirement (Luke Kuechly) and free agency (James Bradberry), and came into the year with the youngest defense in football. 

The Saints have stars at every level, with Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Sheldon Rankins, Marshon Lattimore, Malcolm Jenkins, and Marcus Williams flying all over the field to make plays. They were one of only four teams to rank inside the top 10 in DVOA against both the run and the pass last season, and adding Jenkins to the mix in place of Vonn Bell should help them get even better this year. They did a fantastic job shutting down Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 1, holding them to an average of 4.8 yards per play and forcing three turnovers. 

If you want to try to Establish The Run against this group, good luck. Jordan is among the best run defenders in the game on the edge, and the interior linemen are experts at shooting gaps to make plays in the backfield. Former linebackers coach Mike Nolan is now the defensive coordinator in Dallas, but the work he did with this group over the past few years has turned a few of their players into significantly higher level contributors, and that should continue even now that he’s gone. The Raiders have a strong offensive line and rarely allowed runs to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage (just 17 percent last season, per Football Outsiders, the seventh-smallest share in the league), but they also don’t usually have to face the Saints. 

Carr prefers to target Waller and his backs on underneath throws as opposed to chunking it downfield, but New Orleans has been just as good at defending those types of passes over the past few seasons as those to the perimeter. The Raiders’ best option might be trying to get the ball into the hands of Ruggs and/or Hunter Renfrow in the hopes that they break a big play, but Ruggs could get shadow treatment from Lattimore (in which case we should expect him to be held in check) and Renfrow will have to deal with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the slot. Neither matchup is an advantage for Vegas. In fact, it’s difficult to see where they have any advantages on that side of the ball.

Prediction: Saints 26, Raiders 16

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