NAPA Raiders safety Michael Huff clearly remembers what happened two years ago when the New Orleans Saints came to Oakland in Week 3 of the exhibition season.
How could he forget? Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 14 of 17 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 149.8 in little over a quarter of work. The Saints passed for 304 yards and ran for 232. They led 14-0 after the first quarter and 31-0 at halftime in a 45-7 win.
Brees and the Saints return to Oakland tonight for another Week 3 exhibition game, this one nationally televised.
"Things didn't go too well for us then," Huff said. "But this is a new year, a new team, and we've all kind of matured and kind of grown up since then. So hopefully this is a better outcome."
Facing Brees and the high-powered Saints offense will be a huge challenge for a Raiders defense that lost Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to the Jets as a free agent but returned its other 10 starters from last season. The Raiders also changed defensive coordinators. John Marshall is out. Chuck Bresnahan is back in for his second stint with Oakland, and his players are still adjusting to some new terminology and defensive wrinkles.
"This is definitely going to be a test to see where we are mentally, physically, just as a whole defense, offense," Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt said. "You saw what they did in Week 1 with all the blitzing. It's always Week 3 is going to tell you where you're at."
The third preseason game is typically the most important in the NFL. Starters get their most extensive playing time before making a cameo appearance or sitting out the exhibition finale. If history repeats, Saints coach Sean Payton will treat tonight's game like a dress rehearsal for the regular season and turn Brees loose.
"Unbelievable test," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. "This is probably the best test that we can get playing against a tremendous offensive football team with a quarterback that I think is one of the best in football."
Jackson and the Raiders still seek their first win. They opened with a 24-18 loss to Arizona and are coming off a 17-3 defeat to the 49ers. In that loss at Candlestick Park, the Raiders' defense had an all-too-familiar problem. It couldn't stop the run. San Francisco rushed for 239 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
Not surprisingly, Jackson turned up the intensity in practice this week and emphasized run defense.
"When I put my name to something and say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it," Jackson said. "This run defense thing has baffled this organization for years. We're going to put our head down, and we're going to be good at it. There's no magic to it. Players have to stay in their gaps.
"We have to get it done. I have to get it done. The defensive coaches have to get it done, and our defensive players have to get it done, and I believe we will. We're going to get that fixed."
The Saints' running attack isn't nearly as daunting as their passing game, but they still have some dangerous runners, including Pierre Thomas, former Charger Darren Sproles and rookie Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy two years ago at Alabama.
"If you can't stop the run, you aren't going to be successful in this league," Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "If you want to rush the passer in this league, you have to be able to stop the run first. You stop the run in order to rush the passer because if a team can run the ball all day, there is no need to pass."
Raiders outside linebacker Quentin Groves said he is "concerned" that the 49ers were able to run for so many yards last week.
"But we are going to get it fixed," he added. "It just takes time. People fail to realize that this is only our second or third week in this defense. There are going to be kinks that you have to work out. I'm glad it's the preseason and not the regular season."