After much anticipation, the Raiders are finally set to play their first game in Las Vegas on Monday night.
They call the newly-minted Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas the “death star.”
From an aerial perspective, it certainly bears a resemblance to the famed spaceship used by Darth Vader and company in the legendary movie series Star Wars.
Of course, whether the nickname lives up to its hype remains to be seen. But if there’s one thing we’re certain of, it’s that the Raiders will finally get to debut their pristine new venue in front of a national TV audience on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
The stage is set. Week 2 against an NFC heavyweight, the New Orleans Saints, under the bright lights of the betting capital of the world. Las Vegas’ football coronation has finally arrived.
Adding to the excitement and anticipation ahead of Monday night’s contest was the Raiders’ thrilling Week 1 shootout victory over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday.
The 34-30 win, which featured a stellar performance from running back Josh Jacobs (25 carries, 93 yards, and three (!) touchdowns as well as 46 yards receiving on four receptions) and a decent afternoon from quarterback Derek Carr (22/30 passing with 239 yards and a touchdown) gives Las Vegas some momentum heading into their home debut.
However, it wasn’t a banner day by any means for the defense, which surrendered 30 points and 388 total yards to the Panthers offense. They’ll look to get on track in time for Monday night’s game.
That won’t be an easy task, however, as the Saints look to come marching into Las Vegas in search of their second win of the season.
Coming off a 34-23 triumph in New Orleans over the Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom the Raiders face in week seven, the Saints appeared to pick up right where they left off in 2019 as a 13 win team.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was not his typical deadly accurate self, completing 18 of his 30 pass attempts for 160 yards. However, he did rack up two passing touchdowns.
Star running back Alvin Kamara reached the end zone twice but totaled just 16 yards on the ground and 51 yards through the air. Wide receiver Michael Thomas was mostly held in check on Sunday, catching three passes for a mere 17 yards.
Defense was ultimately what won the day for the Saints in week one, featuring two interceptions of Tom Brady, including one returned for a touchdown. The Saints also sacked Brady three times and held the Bucs rushing attack at bay.
What do the Raiders have to do to win their home debut on Monday Night?
It’s only Week 2, but this game looks like one of Las Vegas’ toughest contests of the season. Therefore, a win will undoubtedly be challenging to come by.
In a piece of good news for the Raiders, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain during last Sunday’s game and is expected to miss multiple weeks recovering from the injury.
That presents one less offensive threat for Las Vegas’ secondary to worry about, and a huge threat no less.
However, the Saints were able to go 5-0 last season in the absence of starting quarterback Drew Brees, so it figures that they’ll find some way to overcome the absence of their top wideout. They’re just that good.
The first order of business for the Raiders must be to find a way to limit versatile running back Alvin Kamara on Monday night. The Buccaneers provided the blueprint to halting his overall ground production, but Kamara still found paydirt twice.
In addition, Kamara is a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield as well as when he occasionally splits out wide. Those skills were on display Sunday with his five catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
The Raiders were not effective in stopping Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey on Sunday, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of holding off Kamara, a player with a similar skill set.
Las Vegas will also have to find ways to neutralize Saints quarterback and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill, who lines up all over the field in various formations and is a threat to pull off almost any play imaginable.
It would be an understatement to say that preparing for Taysom Hill will be a tall task given his unpredictability factor.
Former Raiders’ tight end Jared Cook will also look for increased production in this game due to the absence of Michael Thomas, meaning a difficult coverage assignment for the Raiders’ linebackers and safeties.
For Las Vegas’ offense, the primary challenge will be facing off against a stout Saints defense that boasts talent at every level.
That talent was quite evident last week, as they continuously frustrated Tom Brady and the loaded Tampa Bay offense all throughout that game.
One area where the Saints especially excel is run defense, which happens to counteract the strength of the Raiders’ offense: a formidable rushing attack lead by Josh Jacobs.
The Saints have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 44 straight games. That’s an unprecedented and incredible streak of consistency which continued Sunday as they held Bucs running back Ronald Jones to 66 yards rushing on 17 carries.
If the Raiders have any chance of winning on Monday night, they’ll have to find some way to penetrate the Saints defensive front and create running room for Jacobs. That will be easier said than done against a top-flight defensive front.
As if that task won’t be challenging enough, the Saints also have an excellent secondary. Outside of strong yardage afternoons from Bucs wideouts Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller (neither of whom reached the end zone, however), the Bucs passing game was mostly held in check, even intercepting Brady twice.
The Saints also have the linebacking and safety talent to stack up against tight end Darren Waller, meaning Las Vegas could have trouble locating its safety net on offense at times throughout the game.
Ideally, Derek Carr will need a clean pocket to operate the passing game at its highest efficiency. Though the team’s offensive line graded out well in Week 1, the Panthers defense is not nearly as talented as New Orleans’.
The Saints will bring pressure and they succeed at sacking the quarterback, doing so three times on Sunday.
Can the Raiders pull off the upset?
If they can, it would be a huge morale booster for Jon Gruden and company. Under more normal circumstances, the Raiders would likely have a much more realistic shot at securing the upset due to the fact that the Saints are historically a better team at home than on the road.
In this case, though, the absence of fans will level the playing field for both teams.
For what it’s worth, the Raiders did win the last meeting between these two franchises, a 35-34 shootout at the Superdome back in 2016. However, much has changed for both teams in the four years since that contest.
Ultimately, the Saints are the more talented squad and will likely be too much for the Raiders to handle, even under the Las Vegas lights and in the confines of Allegiant Stadium.
Unless, of course, the “Death Star” kills the Saints before they even have a chance to take the field.