- It’s a double-header on the first Monday Night Football of the 2019 season, and we have three things to watch for and a score prediction for each game.
The Saints are among the teams favored to win the Super Bowl this season—will the team start strong out of the gate against the Texans in the first game of the Monday Night Football double-header? And after a preseason to remember (...forget?) the Raiders have finally moved on from Antonio Brown. What will the offense look like against the Broncos?
Three things to watch in each game and a score prediction, below.
SAINTS-TEXANS (7:10 p.m. ET, ESPN)
1. The Saints usually feature Alvin Kamara on about half of their scripted plays. Look for the game’s most feared multidimensional back to align all over the formation and get several passes out of the backfield, especially if the Saints figure out formations that impose the coverage onus on linebacker Benardrick McKinney, as opposed to the longer, more athletic Zach Cunningham.
2. This matchup features strength-on-strength up front. New Orleans’s offensive line is one of the NFL’s two or three best, and Houston’s defensive line, even without Jadeveon Clowney, is a force to be reckoned with. The Texans are difficult to move in the ground game and potent out of five-man pass rush structures. Last season, their five-man rush looks still often brought only four pass rushers (with the fifth guy dropping into coverage), because distrust in their cornerbacks’ man coverage ability discouraged the Texans from blitzing. Concerns about the corners may persist again given 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph’s lack of speed and ex-Bronco Bradley Roby’s history of ups and downs. Monday night will offer a glimpse into this but not quite a full picture, as New Orleans’s passing game focuses more on attacking linebackers and safeties inside as opposed to corners outside. Even with their corners less threatened, don’t be surprised if the Texans blitz only selectively given that Drew Brees so often gets through his reads before designer pressure has time to get home.
3. Why does Bill O’Brien ostensibly feel that he’s coaching for his job in 2019? O’Brien is coming off an 11–5 season despite having a 2–14 caliber offensive line. He has won his division in three of five years despite never having a quality veteran QB. The hope—or expectation—is that Deshaun Watson will soon blossom into a quality young veteran-like QB. Watson’s development hinges on his pocket poise, which wavered behind a bad O-line in 2018. Investing in offensive line upgrades are as much about building Watson’s confidence in the pocket as anything. That remade O-line has a big test right away, as the Saints are talented up front and tremendous with designer four-man rush tactics.
BOLD PREDICTION: Marshon Lattimore looks great in his presumed matchup against DeAndre Hopkins … and Hopkins still has seven catches for 90+ yards. No receiver is better at winning when he’s not open.
SCORE PREDICTION: Saints 31, Texans 24
RAIDERS-BRONCOS (10:20 p.m. ET, ESPN)
1. The fact that Antonio Brown lasted long enough for his misbehavior in Oakland to go as far as it did says everything about what Jon Gruden thinks of his receiving corps. Outside of the explosive but not always reliable ex-Charger Tyrell Williams, Oakland has no pieces to scheme around. Jared Cook’s departure leaves them without a threatening tight end. They lack a true proven slot receiver. There isn’t nearly enough depth to surprise defenses with heavy doses of four-wideout sets. Brown wasn’t just Oakland’s only veritable weapon, he was the only man they could build plays around. He was the gameplan’s loadbearing wall.
2. When Derek Carr is uncomfortable, he gets rid of the ball too quickly—watch for that to be an issue Monday night. Schematically, this Broncos defense will be blurry and well-disguised, which is nothing like the ones Carr has faced in past years. They’ll have both man and zone principles that allow corners and linebackers to be aggressive. And remember, it’s still Bradley Chubb and Von Miller coming off the edge. Expect the Raiders to align in more spread formations as the game progresses, playing to Carr’s hastened dropback tendencies.
3. Oakland isn’t the only team in this game with thin receiving corps. Denver’s only proven pass catcher is Emmanuel Sanders, who is coming off an early December Achilles’ injury. Denver’s offense must begin with the running game, as that’s not only the best source of stability but also a key component for setting up pass plays that win through design.
SCORE PREDICTION: Broncos 20, Raiders 10
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