Heading into Week 1 of the 2012-2013 NFL season, you might have trouble finding a matchup of more contrasting teams than the Redskins and Saints.
For Washington, the start of a new era begins Sunday afternoon when second overall draft pick Robert Griffin III takes the field for the first time in regular season action. With question marks and inexperience on the offensive side of the ball, the Redskins will be anchored by a strong defensive unit filled with veteran leaders and emerging superstars.
As for New Orleans, an offseason riddled with chaos and controversy comes to a close. Head coach Sean Payton will have to watch from his couch as last year’s no. 1 ranked offense takes the field against the Redskins stingy D. The questions for the Saints remain on the defensive side of the ball, and offseason suspensions courtesy of bounty-gate certainly won’t help improve one of the NFL’s worst units from a season ago.
Despite their contrasting styles, both teams will be hungry to pick up a win in Week 1. The expectations in New Orleans might be a bit loftier than those in D.C.; however, hopes are high in the nation’s capital that RGIII can lead Washington’s most beloved franchise to success.
Let’s take a look at a position-by-position breakdown of Redskins vs. Saints:
The quarterback position may very well be the easiest one to decipher when previewing the Week 1 matchup. By no means do I intend to sell Robert Griffin III short, his talent and potential have me gitty for Sunday. But we are talking about a rookie quarterback playing his first ever game at the pro level against one of the greatest passers the game has ever seen. Drew Brees shattered Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record a year ago, and though it may be unrealistic to expect those types of numbers, don’t expect a big drop-off in production from the Saints’ QB.
I’m actually looking for RGIII to post some very respectable numbers against a depleted Saints defense in Week 1, but with all the weapons at Brees’ disposal, look for the veteran QB to slice up the Redskins’ secondary in the Superdome.
Neither team has too much to brag about in terms of the ground attack heading into Week 1, but the experience factor tilts in favor of the Saints. Veterans Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas figure to make a formidable duo for New Orleans in 2012-2013, while the Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram looks to emerge as a starter at the next level. With three solid options out of the backfield, the Saints may have problems distinguishing a true first option, but Sproles’ explosiveness presents them with unlimited options.
For the Redskins, a trio of backs figures to split carries in Week 1, with no clear-cut no. 1 back. Alfred Morris’ impressive performance in the preseason pushed him towards the top of the depth chart, but both Evan Royster and Roy Helu have made cases of their own to get a bulk of the carries.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
Why don’t we ask Jim Haslett what he thinks about the receiver/tight end position? Like everyone else around the NFL, I’m sure he’ll have nothing but good things to say.
5,476 passing yards and 46 TDs were distributed amongst all the Saints’ offensive weapons last season. And unfortunately for the Redskins, almost all of them will be suited up in week 1. Marques Colston presents the biggest threat at wide receiver, but it might be New Orleans’ tight end that will give Washington the most problems. Jimmy Graham didn’t start playing football until he was in college at the University of Miami. And now, he makes for one of the biggest matchup problems in all of the NFL. The Redskins linebackers and safeties are going to have to play next-to-perfect to contain Graham who reeled in 11 touchdowns a season ago.
Washington made a point of upgrading the receiver position during their active offseason. Free agent signings of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan instantly improve the wideout position, but the receiver-quarterback chemistry with a rookie under center has yet to be seen. Tight end Fred Davis emerged as a legitimate red-zone threat in 2011-2012, and with the recent departure of Chris Cooley, he figures to get even more targets in 2012-2013.
Even with the upgrades to the Redskins’ offense, New Orleans still holds an edge in terms of versatility and explosiveness. Darren Sproles has been known to catch balls out of the backfield and turn them into big gains. Look for Brees to have a great day against a shoddy Redskins secondary.
Since the infamous “Hogs” under Joe Bugel, the Redskins have struggled to compose a dominant O-line capable of dictating games. In fact, in recent years, Washington’s offensive line has been nothing short of awful. A mobile quarterback should help lower the sack totals that defenses racked up against the likes of Rex Grossman, and Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme has shown improvements in the running game. But the Skins still don’t have any studs to speak of outside of Trent Williams.
For the Saints, it is an entirely different story. Three Pro Bowlers help make up one of the strongest lines in the league. A strong left side of Jermon Bushrod and Ben Grubbs (both 2011 Pro Bowlers) will help open up holes for the running game, while three-time All-Pro selection Jahri Evans will anchor the right side of the line. The Saints surrendered fewer sacks (24) than every team but Buffalo last season, and with another year of experience, expect that number to remain low.
Just like the Saints dominate the matchups offensively, the Redskins tend to be favored on nearly every aspect of the defensive side.
The New Orleans Saints ranked 30th out of 32 teams a season ago in terms of total yards surrendered. And after losing two of its most important pieces to suspension, the Saints’ D could be in for another long year. Will Smith will miss four games as a result of the bounty-gate probe, and starting linebacker Jonathan Vilma is expected to sit all 16 games. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been kicked out of the league indefinitely, so inexperience figures to riddle the defensive side of the ball in New Orleans.
For Washington, the defense continues to improve with a solid core of young talent, and one of the best linebacking corps’ in the National Football League. First round draft-picks Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo have both showed promising signs in the new 3-4 scheme, and London Fletcher led the entire league in tackles a season ago. The 12th ranked defense in 2011-2012 was stingier when it came to surrendering points than yards. But after a recent injury to starting safety Brandon Meriweather (2-4 weeks with a sprained knee), the Skins’ secondary could be a problem. Washington’s pass rush will need consistent pressure on Brees if they want to have a shot at stopping him. If not, the All-Pro quarterback will have all day to pick apart one of the weaker pass defenses in the NFL.
After a hectic offseason in New Orleans, the Superdome should be electric come Sunday afternoon. A hostile environment could pose problems for a rookie quarterback, but nothing yet has indicated RGIII won't be able to adjust. With the league's deadliest passing attack matching up against a questionable Redskins secondary, the result could be a high scoring affair. The Saints' depleted defense needs to contain Robert Griffin III and show him different coverages in an effort to force poor decisions, and pressure from New Orleans' defensive line could make the difference.
I think the Redskins will march into New Orleans and pose a surprising threat to the Saints. But in the end, a 300+ yard day from Brees and a wild crowd in the Superdome will help the Saints prevail.
Final Score: 34-24