METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans’ much-maligned defense has certainly made strides this season, figuring out ways to stop teams inside the 20 when it absolutely needed a stop.
But Sunday at 3:05 p.m., they’ll face one of their bigger tests in the first 10 games. Oakland’s offense might not scare many people on the surface, but the Raiders’ passing attack is one of the best in the NFL.
Led by Carson Palmer, Oakland (3-6) boasts the No. 5-ranked passing game, averaging 255.9 yards. Palmer is second in the NFL in attempts (375) and third in yards (2,723). He has completed 230 of those passes.
And without a running game – Oakland is No. 31 in that category – the Saints can expect a heavy dose of Palmer passes.
“We all know Carson Palmer (as a) big, strong quarterback who has good field vision, because of his size,” Saints linebacker coach Joe Vitt said. “Carson Palmer is on pace right now to break the all-time Raider single-season passing record. He’s on pace right now to break that.”
The Raiders can strike from distance. Three players have season-long catches of greater than 50 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown by Mike Goodson.
Palmer is on pace for 4,840 yards, nearly 150 more than Rich Gannon’s record set in 2002. That would also be a career high for the quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Saints are 31st in the league against the pass, giving up 307 yards through the air per game. Atlanta and Tampa Bay have passes for more than 400 yards against New Orleans while rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III opened his career with a 306-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Saints.
In nine games, the Saints have given up at least three touchdown passes four times. And four quarterbacks have completed at least 70 percent of their passes against New Orleans.
What Oakland brings into this game is a speedy receiving corps that can stretch the field.
“The speed on the outside (stands out),” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “Carson Palmer can throw it the best with anybody. When you’ve got that kind of combination, you’re going to have a lot of success and they’ve done that. The receivers are catching the ball better too. You’ve got to understand that and just understand what they do really well.”
Receiver Denarious Moore leads the Raiders with 575 yards (25th in the entire NFL) and five touchdowns. And Darrius Heward-Bay has 24 catches for 371 yards and three scores.
And that’s not even taking into account tight end Brandon Myers, who has caught a team-high 44 passes for 499 yards and two touchdowns.
That has the attention of those high up in the Saints’ coaching structure.
“I think they are a pretty aggressive, young and hungry football team,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “This is a game where we have to be on top of our game or else we will be really disappointed.”