New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins: Continuance and Redemption

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst ISeptember 12, 2008

In Week Two of the NFL regular season, the Washington Redskins will host the New Orleans Saints in their home opener at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

For the Redskins, it presents an opportunity for redemption, to show that their poor offensive showing in a disappointing loss to the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in Week One was not indicative of their season moving forward.

For the Saints, it’s an opportunity to continue building on a solid, if not spectacular, defensive performance in Week One’s win over one of their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints may be short handed on the defensive side of the ball this week, as starting safety Roman Harper, starting cornerback Randall Gay, starting linebacker Scott Fujita, and Fujita’s primary backup Mark Simoneau reportedly sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday.  

The injury situation could leave the Saints with rookie Tracy Porter the only starter from Week One returning for a second week in a row at cornerback. With veteran Mike McKenzie working his way back from last season’s knee injury, the Redskins could try to test their depth in the secondary.

The loss of Fujita could be large as well, tied with veteran line backer Jonathan Vilma for the team lead in tackles last week, Fujita is also a team leader and would be sorely missed. Depth at defensive tackle could be a much more relevant issue this week however.

The Redskins are still attempting to reach a comfort level with rookie Head Coach Jim Zorn’s version of the West Coast offense, and it’s reasonable to expect a heavy helping of standout running back Clinton Portis.

With a relatively poor showing against the run last week, the Saints will need to stop the Redskins’ running game in order to put pressure on quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell’s play last week was far from stellar, and the Saints would likely aim to put the game on his shoulders and dare the Redskins to beat them through the air.

The Redskins offense will need to attack the Saints at their weakest point, stopping the run. Last week, the Saints allowed an attractive 7.3 yards per carry on only 20 attempts. Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden called on veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia (24-41 for 221 yards, one TD and one INT) to “fling it around” rather than take advantage of his team’s success on the ground.

With only a 5.6 yard average per pass, the Bucs couldn’t move the ball consistently and the Saints’ defense made stops when they had to. There may well be opportunity for the Redskins to exploit the Saints’ defense, they will need to take advantage of those opportunities to keep up with the Saints offensive attack.

Offensively, look for Zorn to run early in an attempt to slow down the pass rush of the Saints’ stand out defensive ends Will Smith (three tackles last week) and Charles Grant (three tackles and a sack last week).

The Redskins’ offensive line played well in pass protection against the Giants, only allowing one sack of Campbell, but the run blocking was not up to their standards. Standout running back Clinton Portis and his backup Ladell Betts could be in for a busy day. Betts had success in the Redskins’ win in 2006 with Portis on IR, and Portis seems to be in top condition.

Redskins’ quarterback Jason Campbell will need to improve on his output from last week (obviously) and should hope to get the ball downfield to keep the Saints’ secondary honest and not allow them to get close to the line of scrimmage to help out against the run.

If strong safety Roman Harper (five tackles last week) can’t play this week, or is ineffective, last year’s starter Josh Bullocks (one tackle in a backup role last week) may be called upon to play the free-safety position while veteran Kevin Kaesviharn (six tackles last week) moves over to play strong safety in Harper’s stead.

This change would not be ideal for the Saints, and tight end Chris Cooley may be able to exploit the weakness. Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly may make his debut this week, offering Zorn and Campbell more options offensively.

While the Saints will be lacking the services of standout wide receiver Marcus Colston following thumb surgery that will keep him sidelined for up to six weeks, Colston was not the focus of the Saints' offense last week. Colston was statistically a non-factor, with only three catches for 26 yards.

It was Reggie Bush that led the team in receptions and receiving yards and also added a touchdown catch and run. And newly acquired tight end Jeremy Shockey added six catches for 54 yards, good for second on the team.

But the fact that seven different receivers caught a pass shows that the ball will be spread around by Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton and Saints’ Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees.

Brees finished last week’s game 23-of-32 for 337 yards (10.7 yards per completion), one interception, and three touchdowns. All three touchdowns were of the “big-play” variety.

Veteran wideout David Patten got it started with a 39-yard touchdown, Devery Henderson caught an 84 yarder, and star tailback Reggie Bush turned a short “dump off” into a 42-yard touchdown.

The Redskins will look to eliminate the big plays from the Saints' offense and force them to drive the length of the field for points, something the Saints were unable to do against the Bucs.

In response to that, expect the Saints to start out with more Pierre Thomas, or to activate veteran Deuce McAllister this week.

Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton will surely have taken note of the Giants’ Brandon Jacobs' success against the Redskins' defense last week. While Thomas isn’t as explosive as Bush, and McAllister is likely to be rusty, returning from last season’s knee injury, Payton may want to try a power running game in order to loosen up the Redskins on the edge, and set up the big play. The question will be: CAN they?

To stop the Saints’ big-play offense, the Redskins will need to apply pressure to Brees. And when they can’t get to him, they need to get to the ball instead. At 6'0", Brees is one of the shorter quarterbacks in the league, and the Redskins' defensive linemen will be coached to get their hands up a lot this week.

Batted balls have been one of the few negatives for Brees, and the Redskins used it to their advantage in the team’s last meeting, a win in 2006. Although Brees had no passes knocked down last week, look for the Redskins to try to change that this week.

One of the most explosive players in the game, Reggie Bush, will also be a point of focus for the Redskins’ defense. Bush was relatively quiet after a very busy first quarter last week. Until the fourth quarter, when Bush exploded with a catch of 29 yards, which set up the 42-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that would prove to be the game winning score.

The Bucs' defense was gashed by Bush on the ground in the first quarter, but they were able to slow him considerably the rest of the game. It’s Bush’s receiving that the Bucs couldn’t stop, and it ultimately cost them the game. For the Redskins to stop the Saints, they will have to stop Bush as a receiver as much as a runner.

This is an important game for both teams, as all games are in the NFL, but perhaps more so for the Redskins. The Redskins are in the midst of a transition (ANOTHER TRANSITION) that will likely be slow going.

Zorn and Campbell have been the subject of much conversation this past week, mostly negative. The onus is on Zorn to show he really isn’t “in over his head” as has been said by many football pundits.

For Campbell, he needs to show that he is capable of playing well in the West Coast offense, something many doubt. The Redskins' defense intends to continue showing that they can be among the league’s best.

For the Saints, the question marks on defense that have plagued them since Sean Payton took over as head coach are in need of answering.

Last week, the Saints’ defense was able to put pressure on Garcia throughout the game, but the Bucs still scored 20 points and stayed in position to win it at the end. Late-game defensive heroics are not what Payton wants every week, like that of Fujita last week.

Fujita had an interception of a Garcia pass at the Saints’ 19-yard line with only 38 seconds left on the clock. The interception ended a seven-play drive from the Bucs that could have won the game if they had scored. Too close for comfort.

Don’t be surprised if neither team exceeds 24 points, and this should be another close, hard-fought contest for both teams.

It’s almost game time; will it be redemption, or continuation?


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