November 18, 2012

Outgunning Oakland: Defense Makes Plays in 38-17 Romp; RT Brown Hurt

The Saints enjoyed a breakout romp in Oakland, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and eventually putting Chase Daniel, the backup quarterback, in the game with more than four minutes left.

Both Saint starting safeties made big plays on the day, four Saint runningbacks made big plays, Drew Brees was nearly flawless and Lance Moore was dancing on a beautiful California Sunday afternoon.

With today's game, in the past four games against the Raiders including preseason, the Saints have won 38-17, 40-20, 45-7, 34-3.  Not since a 2005 preseason finale Raiders win 13-6 has that high-scoring streak been broken.  The Saints have won three straight regular season games against the Raiders, their last loss coming in a fateful November afternoon in 2000, when starting QB Jeff Blake suffered a fractured foot and young prospect Aaron Brooks came in.

The Raiders defense who had given up 97 points in the past two games gave up 31 more to the Saints' offense, and with a Saint defensive touchdown, the final score of 38-17 was indicative of a total field victory for the Saints.  The Saints defense looked more composed and The Raiders racked up a garbage-time touchdown on a 93-yard drive at the end of the game.  Aside from that drive, the Saints' defense gave up 339 yards and 10 points to the 9th ranked offense in the league.  Unfortunately, the New Orleans defense remains statistically the worst in the league, though they did not show it in Oakland.  Two interceptions and two late fourth down stops helped dull Carson Palmer's attack and limit him to 22/40 passing for 312 yards and two scores, though he still gained big yardage passing to versatile bruiser FB/TE Marcel Reece and TE Brandon Myers.

The Saints forced a punt on the Raiders' opening drive and responded with a textbook 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was an ideal balance of 39 yards rushing and 41 yards passing, the final a one-yard pass from Brees to a wide-open TE Jimmy Graham, who scored his 8th touchdown of the season.  Brees was 4/5 on the first drive of the day, the one incompletion had to be overturned by replay review and nullified a 29-yard catch by RB Travares Cadet, who saw action on the Saints' fourth offensive snap.

Starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins ended the Raiders' third drive when he broke in front of star-crossed TE Brandon Myers to intercept Palmer on a short route over the middle. Escorted by his teammates including DT Tom Johnson, who cleared out QB Carson Palmer with a knockdown block at the Raider 15, Jenkins stumbled, recovered, dodged and sprinted down the sideline and into the end zone for his second career touchdown and his first since December 12, 2010.

The rookie Cadet flashed great agility and quickness in the open field and was used throughout the game on his way to 25 yards on two receptions and 123 return yards, including a 75-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter.  Cadet also had a 25 yard punt return nullified by an offsides penalty on RB Mark Ingram, playing on coverage teams.

Ingram, who has looked like a new man in the past two games, led the Saints with 67 yards rushing on 12 carries including a 27-yard breakaway touchdown run on the first snap of the second half.  Ingram, who showed more power and speed than at any time in his NFL career, was flagged for taunting former Saint S Matt Giordano on the way to the end zone, a 15-yard flag enforced on the kickoff.

Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas also saw significant action.  Ivory finished with 37 yards on 8 carries, including a 25-yard bruising run, but for the first time in three games this season was held without a highlight reel touchdown run.  Thomas had five carries for 30 yards, including a 14-yard run on his first carry, and 28 yards on three catches, plus an important heads-up fumble recovery at the end of the second half that helped keep a momentum-stealing drive alive.

With the Raiders driving on their drive following Jenkins' interception, the Saints defense came up with another big red zone play.  With RB/FB/TE Marcel Reese providing almost all the offense for the Raiders in the first half, the Raiders moved to the Saint 12 yard line but faced 4th and inches from the three.  Palmer quick-snapped and dove up the middle himself for the conversion on the 14th play of the drive, giving the home team first and goal from the Saint 1 yard line.  But offensive pass interference on a pick play moved the Radiers back to the 12.  On 3rd and 7, Palmer fired a bullet behind Myers, who tipped the ball into the air into the waiting arms of starting strong safety Roman Harper.

Harper gladly collected his second interception of the season and kneeled in the end zone.  Elated that the starting pair had forced turnovers on back-to-back drives, the two couldn't help doing some sort of herky-jerky jumping dance celebration, drawing a flag for excessive celebration.

After a Saint punt, the Raiders moved down the field with a 56-yard catch and run by Reese, who beat Harper short left and turned upfield, finally chased down by Jenkins.  A defensive pass interference penalty on CB Patrick Robinson later and Raiders were back on the Saint 1.  This time, Palmer's scramble drill pass to Myers in front of Robinson was a catch, and the Raiders had pulled to 14-7 with 4:04 left in the first half.  Myers, who had such terrible luck on the Raiders' first two turnovers, found some redemption with his third touchdown catch of the year.

The Saints responded with a great late-first half drive to push their lead back to 14 at the half.  Strikes to Colston for 24 and 16 yards moved the Saints to the Oakland 35, but Brees was flagged for intentional grounding on second down and the Saints faced 3rd and 13.  Who does Brees always look for on third down?  WR Lance Moore, who broke open deep as Brees scrambled.  Brees' deep pass to the back of the end zone found crafty Moore behind the defense from 38 yards away with :57 left on the clock.  While Moore danced to Gangnam Style, the Raiders defense was demoralized.  DE Will Smith snuffed out Palmer's two minute drill with a sack, one of three sacks on Palmer for the defense.

LB Jonathan Vilma, playing significant snaps at outside linebacker, finished with two tackles and a sack on Palmer in the third quarter.  DT Tom Johnson got the last sack of Palmer to help kill the Raiders' second drive of the second half, forcing the Raiders into 3rd and 27.

The Saints lost right tackle Charles Brown on the touchdown play, and he was carted to the locker room with a knee injury.  Taking his place was Bryce Harris, who struggled immediately and had to be protected by tight ends and backs all game long.  In September, the Saints plucked T Bryce Harris off the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons.  The rookie out of Fresno State had not appeared in an NFL game before today.

Harper had a big play wiped out by replay review on the Raiders' first drive of the second half, when WR Rod Streater caught a pass, tucked the ball, took two steps, and was stripped of the ball by CB Jabari Greer.  Harper recovered and weaved 57 yards before being tackled by Reece.  But replay review inexplicably overturned the fumble and ruled it an incomplete catch, though the ball didn't appear to be loose, only being moved by Streater.  Harper was as usual abused by the opponent's tight end, often the victim of Reece, but finished with nine tackles, two assists and the big red zone interception.

Three plays later, the Raiders got a 40-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski to bring the Raiders within 18 points, the closest the Raiders would get for the rest of the game.

Brees would find an impossibly-open Lance Moore again in the third quarter, when he scrambled left and fired to Moore in double coverage.  Brees' pass dropped in between two defenders and into Moore's breadbasket as he fell on his back in the corner of the end zone from 15 yards out.  Following Jimmy Graham's slam dunk over the goal posts, Moore ran to the post, juked and finger-rolled a layup over the bars to celebrate.

The Saints defense made a fourth-down stand on the first play of the fourth quarter, stuffing Reece (19 carries for 103 yards, 4 catches for 90 yards) on 4th and 1 and snuffing out the Raiders' drive.  The Saints drove for a 47-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley to push the advantage to 38-10.  The Raiders' next drive was also lost on downs, with Palmer firing incomplete on 4th and 5 from the Saint 44.  Brees took his final snap of the game with 6:20 left on the clock, firing incomplete to Colston on 3rd and 1 and forcing a Morstead punt.  The Raiders drove from their own 7 with strikes to Darrius Heyward-Bey for 22 and 16 yards, then to TE Myers for 27 and Streater for 20.  With the Saints' defense giving up garbage yardage, Palmer hit WR Juron Criner from three yards out for a touchdown with 4:06 left on the clock.

TE Jimmy Graham snagged the Raiders' onside kick, and up by 21, QB Chase Daniel came in and successfully killed the rest of the clock.  A 10-yard outlet pass to hard-fighting FB Jed Collins picked up a first down, then Daniel on a naked bootleg converted 3rd and 6 with a 19-yard run down the right sideline.  Daniel knelt twice and the game was over.

Unfortunately, the Saints racked up 11 penalties for 109 yards on the day, though strangely not a single one granted the Raiders a first down.  Some were predictable, like when DE Martez Wilson chipped in to the total, jumping offsides on a 4th and 10 attempt, Patrick Robinson was guilty of pass interference in the end zone, and RT Charles Brown jumped early.  Some were a surprise for the Saints, like the illegal celebration penalty on Harper and Jenkins or the taunting penalty on Ingram.

It was the first game for Raiders head coach Dennis Allen against the Saints.  Allen joined the Saints in 2006, part of Sean Payton's first coaching staff, and was promoted in 2008 to defensive backs coach.  He left the Saints after the 2010 season to be the defensive coordinator in Denver, and in his first season with the Raiders.  In three straight games now, the Raiders defense has been annihilated by the competition.  Two weeks ago they gave up 251 yards rushing and 42 points to the Bucs and rookie RB Doug Martin, and last week Ravens QB Joe Flacco scorched them for 341 yards and 55 points.

WR Marques Colston caught four passes for 69 yards on the day, giving him 500 catches on his career, 23 behind Saint great Joe Horn and 32 behind Eric Martin.  Brees had only 219 yards passing on the day despite a 20/27 performance with three touchdowns.  134 yards rushing from his three runningbacks helped keep the Saints' offense balanced.

Reserve CB Elbert Mack made an apparent interception late in the game at the Raiders ten yard line, got up and tried to push into the end zone.  In the struggle, DE Will Smith's left knee caught Mack on the ear, leveling him and apparently knocking him out temporarily.  Mack will be evaluated for post-concussion symptoms throughout the week.  Mack's interception hit the turf but still appeared to be in control - the second tough replay review for refs that nullified Saint turnovers.

The most significant injury is to Brown, whose knee injury may force the Saints to start an undrafted rookie in Harris or move more experienced journeyman G Eric Olsen to tackle.  Olsen has been used as the designated-eligible sixth offensive lineman regularly this year.

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