When the Raiders play their first official game in Las Vegas, their opponent will arrive with a loaded offense. More importantly, the defense needs to contend with an elite wideout. The New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas stands as the first and toughest test in the new era. As a result, Paul Guenther and his cornerback contingent must focus on Thomas. Early, the new-look defense endures their a litmus test.
In four seasons, Thomas tallied 470 catches. Astounding, considering the fact that his catch totals increased in each successive season. The Saints want to target Thomas as frequently as possible. Under those circumstances, 602 targets to begin a career also further illustrates that point. Thomas will see the ball thrown his way, early and often. The Raiders expect to see whomever they assign, probably Trayvon Mullen involved heavily the gameplan.
With so many targets and eventual catches, Thomas does not disappoint his quarterback. Over the last two seasons, he dropped just nine of 332 total targets. Thomas excels in every aspect of catching the ball. First, he elevates, high-pointing the ball, through contact. Next, despite his frame, Thomas goes to the ground with ease to secure the ball. Lastly, Thomas’ reach and dexterity give the quarterback an almost limitless catch radius that drives corners crazy.
If one aspect of Thomas’ game that the Raiders can relax on is this one. Granted, his 11.7 career yards per catch paint the picture of a possession receiver. Yet, Thomas’ instincts and feel for space, allow him to win vertically. The Raiders must understand that Thomas won’t streak by them from the snap. Rather, the nuance of route specificity gains his separation.
Despite his angular frame, Thomas feasts on corners with his ability to trace near-flawless routes. Regardless of the down/distance and traffic situation, Thomas presents a phenomenal window for the ball. On top of that, he approaches each pattern the same. That is to say, he doesn’t tip the route by leaning towards the direction or opening too early. The corner can’t diagnose quickly, making his decision to drive on the underneath route, a bit late. On top of that, Thomas takes even the most basic route and thrives. For example, he generates catches from the quick slant with relative ease.
How the Raiders Should Defend
Regardless of who the Raiders decide to place in front of Thomas, most corners on the roster can stick to this gameplan. First, get deep into Thomas’ chest with a jam. Any delay in route execution helps. Now, when the corner jams, make it count, by driving from the shoulders. Next, gamble. While Thomas’ surehandedness, size and knack for finding space presents a problem, the Raider corners can drive on the ball and catch up to Thomas, if they are late. With an improved pass rush, the corners won’t need to contain the Saints’ best wideout.
Michael Thomas presents the Raiders with a mammoth headache and opportunity. If they slow him down, their odds of winning increase. Moreover, prolonged success builds confidence for the young secondary.