Mike Wagaman : How devastating was it to lose to Minnesota after Reggie Bush had brought such a spark to the team with his punt returns? Easy to shrug off or is there concern of a hangover?
Matthew Postins : Could be some concern. The hard part for the Saints to deal with is that they really could be 5-0 right now. Their losses to Washington, Denver and Minnesota came by a touchdown or less. And you can't really blame Bush for those losses, even though he hasn't done much on the ground (receiving and special teams are another story). Nor can you blame QB Drew Brees, who is putting up huge numbers despite not having WR Marques Colston and TE Jeremy Shockey. The Saints' issues are entirely on defense, where they're ranked among the worst units in the NFL. Until the Saints address those problems, they're going to win – and lose – close games.
Mike Wagaman : Drew Brees is having a great statistical year but 38 of his 202 completions have gone to Reggie Bush. Is he content dinking it down the field or do the Saints have the ability to open up their passing game?
Matthew Postins : The Saints do have that ability, to some degree, with the receivers that are active. WR Lance Moore had two big games in a row before last week. WR Devery Henderson can stretch the field, as can WR Robert Meachem. It's amazing that Brees is putting up the numbers he's putting up with Colston and Shockey injured. One could say that Brees' numbers could go through the roof when the pair return, and they are practicing this week. Colston may very well play on Sunday. But what Brees is doing without his top targets is a product of necessity and his talent. But Brees will take his shots, whether the pair are there or not.
Mike Wagaman : With backs like Bush and Deuce McAllister, one would think the Saints would have a Grade A running game but that hasn't happened. Why not?
Matthew Postins : Well, McAllister didn't play until Week 4 and when he finally did he had the best game any Saints back has had this season – 70 yards and a touchdown. Last week he did practically nothing. The running game is not clicking for a couple of reasons. First, the suspension of Jamar Nesbit has robbed the Saints of one of their best run blockers. Second, the superb play of Brees has forced head coach Sean Payton to put the ball in the hands of his best weapon. Payton wants a balanced offense, but until his backs prove they can shoulder the load – and Bush corrects his fumbling issues, which popped up again last week – this will be a passing team first.
Mike Wagaman : Is the plan to blitz Russell because he's young and if so, what type of pressure does that add to an already struggling New Orleans pass defense? Where have the biggest problems in coverage come for the Saints?
Matthew Postins : The Saints, to my untrained eyes, haven't done much blitzing and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs doesn't rely on a lot of exotic formations. That might be a mistake considering how ineffective the Saints have been defensively. But Gibbs is a relatively conservative coordinator. With the Saints having difficulty stopping the run – and the Raiders' almost certain desire to run the ball on Sunday – I wouldn't be surprised to see Russell be effective on Sunday, thus putting pressure on the Saints' secondary. The Saints are most vulnerable down the field, which was their chief vulnerability last year. If the Raiders are patient and control the line of scrimmage, they'll get their chances to throw into one-on-one coverage because the Saints will be forced to blitz.
Mike Wagaman : Losing Sedrick Ellis … how much does that hurt the run defense and how will the Saints make up for his absence?
Matthew Postins : I'm not sure Ellis' absence hurts the run defense that much because the run defense wasn't that good to begin with. The Saints did hold Minnesota's Adrian Peterson to well under 100 yards last week, so I think the tandem of Brian Young and Antwan Lake was effective at Ellis' position. If that tandem is effective again, I think the Raiders will have difficulty finding yards, even with three backs to shoulder the load.
Matthew Postins is the editor and publisher of bucsblitz.com
Mike Wagaman covers the Raiders for silverandblackillustrated.com.