Let’s be honest. We’re watching everything when the New Orleans Saints host the Oakland Raiders for the Week 1 home opener. The questions we’ve long had since last season ended and have developed over the past few months will likely get some answers on Sunday. Fans are eager, the Saints are eager, and it’s time to see what kind of team shows up in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Here’s the biggest areas to watch as the game unfolds.
The Offensive Line
Perhaps no bigger question for the Saints entering their first game is how the offensive line will perform having to face the likes of Khalil Mack and the Raiders pass rush. Of the team’s 38.0 sacks (T-14th) from a season ago, Mack had 15.0 of them. Mack is sure to move around the line to find the weakest link, and we’re automatically looking at Zach Strief. We want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but can’t ignore what happened last season when facing off against premiere pass-rusher J.J. Watt.
The other side of the equation is defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is no stranger to facing quarterback Drew Brees, as his days in Seattle wreaked some havoc for the veteran.
The front 7, or actually the entire defense
Five new players will start for Dennis Allen’s defense. Nick Fairley, Paul Kruger, James Laurinaitis, Craig Robertson, and P.J. Williams (injured reserve) are the newbies who look to help make this a respectable unit. Honestly, that’s all we care about. The Saints defense doesn’t have to be amazing, as three out of the last four seasons have been riddled by bottom of the barrel defensive squads. Improvement is what we care about.
The good news is the newer players the Saints acquired were all brought in for a reason, and it looks like they’re out to reinvigorate the faith for fans. P.J. Williams, who missed his entire rookie season, has a unique opportunity as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Aside the new players, we’re wanting to see better pressure from the front seven and getting after the quarterback better. I believe some fans would just settle for being able to cover a tight end.
Delvin Breaux vs. Amari Cooper
If you play fantasy football, then you already know that analysts are telling you to start Amari Cooper in your leagues. As a rookie, the former Alabama Crimson Tide star hauled in 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and 6 touchdowns. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Delvin Breaux proved to be one of the league’s best cornerbacks. However, he was overshadowed by a horrid Saints secondary.
Breaux proved himself by playing against some of the NFL’s best receivers last season, and he’s tested right out of the gate by facing Cooper. Needless to say, this is going to be a very interesting battle to watch.
The kicking game will be enough of a focal point in this contest, as undrafted rookie Wil Lutz makes his professional debut after head coach Sean Payton made a shocking move to cut ties with Kai Forbath. While Lutz will have plenty of pressure on him to make field goals and extra points, a little more pressure might be on returner Marcus Murphy. His ‘last chance’ opportunity in preseason produced enough for him to stay on the roster, but let’s be honest - Murphy is still on a short leash and has no room for error.
Who steps up when it matter mosts
One of the things that have carried the Saints in their playoff years have been getting players to make big plays when it was needed the most. Whether it’s on defense or offense, you can likely think of several game ‘heroes’ from the past decade. Players who made the final 53-man roster and are active on Sunday have a chance to make a play that’ll change the course of the game or shift the momentum in favor of their respective team.