The New Orleans Saints running game wasn’t where it will want to be in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Part of this was due to the Bucs being strong against the run, while part of it was due to the Saints gameplan involving a lot of short passes. However, there are more alarming factors at play.
New Orleans will hope to alleviate this against the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football. The Raiders struggled against the Panthers in Week 1, with Christian McCaffrey picking up 97 yards on 23 carries. However, with Michael Thomas out in Week 2, the Saints’ already slow-starting passing game could be something to look out for in this matchup, as the Raiders defense prepares for the Saints.
In Week 1, the Buccaneers didn’t show a lot of respect to Drew Brees and the Saints passing game. They frequently had a safety milling around the line, and New Orleans didn’t give them much reason not to. Brees threw for just 180 yards in a conservative effort, and the Saints running game suffered for it, with Latavius Murray getting 48 yards on 15 carries and Alvin Kamara getting just 12 yards on 16 carries. While Kamara pulled his weight in the passing game, getting five catches for 51 yards, New Orleans would undoubtedly like more from him between the tackles.
The Saints interior line had its struggles on Sunday, as first-round draft pick Cesar Ruiz battles an injury. Nick Easton was serviceable in his stead, but the bigger issue than the line in the running game is play-calling. Sean Payton, who admitted to some questionable calls, seemed intently focused on gimmicks rather than grinding it out. While that worked against the Buccaneers and may even work against the Raiders, Murray and Kamara both run very well between the tackles and should be utilized in that way.
The Raiders notched a 34-30 win in Week 1 over the Panthers, but they have a lot to work on. Their front, comprised of Maliek Collins, Clelin Farrell, Johnathan Hankins and Maxx Crosby, can be very difficult to deal with on a good day. However, they clearly saw some growing pains against the Panthers. At the next level, Cory Littleton is a face to look out for, but if Nick Kwiatkoski plays after a chest injury on Sunday he’ll have to man gap control for the Raiders. If Kwiatkoski is out, the Saints will certainly target his replacement.
The Saints should have an edge in the running game on Sunday. Part of that will depend on Ruiz’s status, but if Payton is acknowledging that playcalling put the Saints in a hole at times it’s hard to imagine he won’t learn from that. Expect to see more running between the tackles, as the Saints try to exploit a talented but young front for the Raiders.
Ultimately, the Saints will be heavily favored against the Raiders, but it all starts on the ground. The Panthers have one of the NFL’s best running backs in McCaffrey, but the New Orleans offensive line should give the Saints an even further edge up front against the Vegas defensive line.