While the Las Vegas Raiders must prepare for more than just one player for the Monday Night Football matchup, the Michael Thomas injury could have an impact on the team’s game plan for this week’s big game.
Coming off a Week 1 road victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Las Vegas Raiders mission gets a little bit tougher this week when they welcome in Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints who will be without their top playmaker. Although the Michael Thomas injury changes plans for the Saints offensively, how much impact will it have on how the Raiders plan defensively?
The Saints trio of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas form one of the league’s most dangerous big three’s. Fortunately for Las Vegas, Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle injury in the final moments of New Orleans 34-23 win over the Bucs and is expected to miss this week’s game. The Michael Thomas injury certainly isn’t something to celebrate but it is crucial when it comes to how the Raiders must game plan for New Orleans.
Thomas has been Brees’s number one target since entering the league in 2016. Last season, Thomas was targeted a league high 185 times, catching 149 of those passes. He has led the NFL in receptions the past two seasons and, before his injury, had played in 58-straight games for the Saints.
It’s also worth noting that Thomas’ last missed game with the Saints was a 2016 Week 14 loss to Tampa Bay. Drew Brees also struggled in the game.
If the Michael Thomas injury means he indeed misses Monday’s game in Las Vegas, here are three things that the Raiders defense should be prepared for.
Don’t Let Young Receivers Beat You
After Michael Thomas, the group of receivers for the Saints consists of Emmanuel Sanders, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, and Marquez Callaway.
Sanders 33, has a track record of success against the Raiders dating back to his time in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos. In 13 career games, he has 55 receptions for 692 yards and five touchdowns. The 55 receptions are his most against any team.
However, beyond Sanders, Tre’Quan Smith is the next top target with 36 receptions in two seasons. Deonte Harris is a specialist in the return game, albeit, a very good weapon in the return game. In 2019, Harris was named a first-team All-Pro as a punt returner in his rookie year. And that leaves rookie undrafted free agent Marquez Callaway who played zero snaps in Week 1.
Trayvon Mullen should be up for the challenge as he comes off an impressive performance against Carolina allowing only two short receptions on five targets. Rookie Damon Arnette didn’t have the greatest of debuts but the level of talent remaining at the wide receiver position for New Orleans is dramatically different from what he saw last week.
Smith, Harris, and Callaway have a combined 15 starts between the three of them. It would be inexcusable for the Raiders defense to allow a wideout not named Sanders to be the reason you lose this game.
Emphasis on Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook
Much like last week in Carolina, the Raiders defense will again be tasked with slowing down one of the game’s top dual-threat backs in Alvin Kamara.
Kamara has yet to rush for 1,000 yards in a season but does have three consecutive seasons of 81 receptions on his resume. With Thomas and his target shares now up for grabs, Sean Payton could look to ride his Pro Bowl back on Monday night.
After Thomas (185) and Kamara (97), tight end Jared Cook was third on the Saints in targets a year ago with 65. Raider fans are very familiar with Jared Cook’s ability to make plays in the passing game.
It will be another big week for linebackers Cory Littleton and Nicholas Morrow who are the coverage specialist in the linebacker room. Also, you can expect safety Johnathan Abram to play a role in the coverage game as well.
The defense should expect a larger role from both Kamara and Cook and we expect to see Kamara exceed 25 touches in the game.
Expect Some Trickery from Sean Payton
Don’t forget Sean Payton is the head coach who made one of the gutsiest gambles ever in Super Bowl history calling for an onside kick to start the second half while trailing 10-6.
Due to the Michael Thomas injury, Paul Guenther should expect to see Payton go into his bag of tricks again on Monday night.
Just last week, Payton dialed up some trickery in the fourth quarter against the Bucs running a “double pass” play with Brees throwing to Taysom Hill and Hill throwing downfield to Alvin Kamara for a gain of 38 yards.
Taysom Hill is the perfect gadget play for Payton because of his ability to throw, catch, and run the ball. Hill carried the ball three times for 13 yards and caught a 14-yard pass in week one for the Saints.
Guenther and his defense would be wise to know when and where Taysom Hill is at all times, and to expect the unexpected when he is on the field.
The Michael Thomas injury takes away one of the league’s best offensive weapons for a team that is looking for a big road win. While the Saints do have a multitude of other weapons, the Raiders catch a break with Thomas out for the prime time match up.