There has been talk of the Las Vegas Raiders going on a run with the teams that lie ahead on the schedule. The next step in that possible run is a matchup with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are currently hurting with key injuries across the board. However, this won’t be a cakewalk. The weapons they do have available still pose a threat. Oh, and don’t forget, they’ll be playing in front of their raucous home crowd.
The Raiders have looked better the last three weeks, but the defense has continued to be a question mark even with the big plays they’ve made. With that being said, there are three players on defense that we should be looking at once the action gets underway.
Defensive Player No. 1: Raiders DL Bilal Nichols
The youth movement at defensive tackle is in full swing as the Raiders traded veteran Johnathan Hankins and left an experience void, but the move showed their belief in Nichols. Nichols doesn’t have eye-catching stats, but the increase in playing time should bring those numbers up, and this matchup should provide plenty of work.
Can Nichols make an impact on Sunday?
The Raiders are fully aware of players like Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara, who are threats on any given down. Nichols can help to slow down these electric players if he disrupts the timing of plays. The Raiders’ defense is going to need Nichols’ ability to cause pressure up front, probably more than ever. Let’s face it, there is no time like the present.
The former second-round pick has been a much-needed number one corner for the Raiders. He has been by far the best player in the secondary. The quarterback rating against him sits at 61.1, per Pro Football Reference. Even more impressive is that since Nate Hobbs’ injury, he draws the opponent’s top receiver. This week, it could be rookie standout Chris Olave. That’s a result of Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas both being expected to be out due to injuries.
New Orleans signal-caller Andy Dalton will have to rely on Olave with the others out. The former Temple Owl has been solid to really good, but an extraordinary performance and possible first interception in the Silver and Black can solidify a victory and move this train forward.
The former New England Patriot has been instrumental not only in terms of leadership but also in terms of strong play. He has forced one fumble, made 24 tackles, three pass deflections, and two interceptions. One of those interceptions ended in a touchdown and slammed the door on a victory last week. His play has been key due to the slump facing Tre’von Moehrig and the underwhelming play of Johnathan Abram.
Harmon has been nicknamed “The Closer,” and if he can continue to play like he has, he may contribute another pick. In facing the red-rifled Dalton, the opportunities will be there for Harmon. In fact, Dalton threw two INTs last week, including a pick-six. Harmon can make plays and may be asked to do more in every game, as he did play every defensive snap last week. He may not be a household name, but he has the eyes of the Saints offense with his play this season.