The Washington Redskins (2-1) take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in prime time in the Bayou. No matter the outcome, the Redskins are in first place of the NFC East, but a win would give them a two-game cushion in the loss column, as the rest of the NFC East went 0-3 in Week 5.
A win also puts the Redskins in the upper-tier of NFC teams early in the season. Beating Brees and the Saints on the road will be challenging, but the Redskins are capable of if they take care of the football, be aggressive on offense, and somehow slow the explosive pace of the Saints offense.
Here are five quick keys to victory for the Redskins.
5. Control Time of Possession and Pace of Game
Much like they did against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the Redskins will need to control the pace of the game Monday night. Brees and the Saints can score in a heap, so keeping that offense off the field will slow down their momentum and could leave New Orleans offense to press for big plays. Washington is third in the NFL in average time of possessions, and its defense equally are third in average time of possessions against. The Redskins’ ability to control the pace of the game in their two wins has been a huge part to their defense’s success, especially against elite-caliber quarterbacks like Brees.
4. Contain Michael Thomas
Easier said than done. However, the Redskins’ greatest strength to their top-ranked defense is their secondary. They’ve contained the passing games of Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, primarily with their ability to keep the football in front of them. That may be a difficult task against the very accurate Brees, who loves throwing the football to his favorite receiver Michael Thomas.
Brees has connected with Thomas on 42 of 44 passes and unlike the first three opposing quarterbacks, Brees will look Thomas way more often because of his accuracy throwing the football. Thomas’ speed will challenge the Redskins, especially cornerback Josh Norman, who is more technique than speed.
Containing Thomas and the passing game will slow down the Saints’ pace enough to keep the score close. Redskins may have more success with Quinton Dunbar on Thomas, but overall the trio of Dunbar, Norman, Fabian Moreau must find a way of containing the elusive wide receiver.
3. Account for the Running Backs
Even if Thomas is contained by the secondary, the onus will be on how well the Redskins defense accounts for Alvin Kamara and the returning Mark Ingram. Kamara has been arguably the most productive player in the NFL the first quarter of the season, accumulating 661 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
He is a threat running the football, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, as well as a receiving threat where he averages 9.6 yards a catch and 8.8 receptions per game. As good as the Redskins’ defense has been so far, the weakness may be upfront. Despite, entering Monday’s game with the No. 1 ranked defense, the Redskins allow 4.5 yards per carry which is 25th in the NFL.
Inside linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown will have to shed blocks and halt the run game against an above-average offensive line, and the nickel coverage backers like Josh Harvey-Clemons must cover Kamara and Ingram in the passing game.
2. Offensive Line Must Win Trenches Battle
A large part of controlling the pace of the game and time of possession is being able to run the football and protect the quarterback. The Redskins offensive line which will feature Chase Roullier starting at left guard and Tony Bergstrom at center with the absence of guard Shawn Lauvao for the second straight game, will have to win the battle in the trenches.
Through the first three games, the Redskins running game has had mixed results. Quantity of carries helped them in Week 1 in Arizona. Week 2 against Indianapolis Adrian Peterson and company were shut down leading to their lone loss this season. In Week 3 against Green Bay, the run game was unstoppable. They’ll have to be either Week 1 or Week 3 good to beat the Saints and it starts with the offensive line.
While New Orleans’ pass defense has struggled thus far, it’s run defense led by middle linebacker Demario Davis has been superb, yielding a league-lowest 3.2 yards per carry. The Redskins’ have not been the most dominant upfront this season with their run blocking. Both Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses have below-average run blocking grades by Pro Football Focus. They’ll have to be better than they have all season to control the pace, keep possessions on schedule and keep the Saints potent offense off the field.
1. No. 2 Wide Receiver Must Feast on Vulnerable Saints Secondary
Entering the Monday night no defense has been worse defending wide receivers than New Orleans. They have a shutdown cornerback in Marshon Lattimore, but everywhere else is open season. It’s hard to say who will garner Lattimore’s attention the most, more than likely Paul Richardson, that leaves Jamison Crowder in a prime position to have a big game.
With Josh Doctson’s availability uncertain, Crowder has to take full advantage of not having Lattimore on him, or vice versa for Richardson. And Alex Smith must take full advantage of the mismatches and attack down the field. Crowder has been targeted a meager 12 times total in the first three games. That number must increase and lead to successful connections, Crowder has just nine receptions.
Lattimore has done a great job silencing opposing top receivers, but No. 2 receivers have feasted on the troubling Saints pass defense. DeSean Jackson, Antonio Callaway, Calvin Ridley, and Sterling Shepard all had big games against the Saints this season. Crowder has to continue the trend for Washington to have a chance to win Monday night.