Redskins vs. Saints: 5 Keys to the Game for Washington
With Robert Griffin III suiting up for them, many believe that the Washington Redskins can beat the New Orleans Saints. If they are to do this, there are certain things that must be done. Mistake-free football is the goal, however unrealistic that may be.
The Redskins have won their last three games against the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and are 6-1 there overall (via ESPN.com). Sounds good, doesn’t it?
However, they haven’t played each other since 2009, and the Saints won that game in overtime. The loss of Sean Payton obviously weighs heavy on the team, but we still don’t know how they are going to come out. Preseason isn’t a good enough opportunity to accurately judge a team.
Yes, the Saints may have been embarrassed by Blaine Gabbert already this year, but it’s ridiculous to expect them to surrender so easily when real games are on the line.
Here are five things integral to the Redskins leaving New Orleans with a win.
Protect the Secondary
This could also be titled “Pressure Drew Brees,” as it roughly amounts to the same thing. When Tanard Jackson received yet another drug-related suspension, the Redskins were short at the safety position.
Jackson had looked good in preseason, so this was bad enough. Then Brandon Meriweather injured his knee again, leaving him out for up to four weeks.
John Keim of the Washington Examiner then added to the misery of Redskins fans by tweeting that Josh Wilson had an ab injury.
Now the Redskins had a bigger problem. Wilson is by far the Redskins' cover corner, and the prospect of playing their first game against a quarterback who broke the NFL single-season passing record isn’t one they would have relished.
The good news in all of this is that Brian Orakpo will return from injury. The linebacker will be crucial to the Redskins getting to Brees and hurrying him into mistakes—or, at the very least, short passes.
It’s vital that Jim Haslett gets his play-calling right here, as we saw how costly a repetitive blitz call could be against the Cowboys last year. If Brees picks up on any predictability within the pass rush, he will exploit it.
Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and London Fletcher form the backbone of a very powerful unit and they pose a genuine threat to Brees. Orakpo led the team with nine sacks last year, and he needs to open his account in the very first game this time around.
The exterior of the Saints’ offensive line is a possible weakness, so creating mismatches by switching Orakpo and Kerrigan around will give them some success.
If Brees is granted the time to launch the ball downfield, the game could be out of the Redskins’ hands very quickly. The same can be said of the Saints’ running game, which was scarily effective on the back of Darren Sproles last year.
The Redskins linebackers need to come out at the top of their game on Sunday, stick to their assignments and protect the vulnerable secondary behind them.
Take All Opportunities
It may sound overly simplistic to tell the Redskins to take their opportunities, but Griffin can’t get involved in a shootout with Brees. Regardless of the suspensions, the Saints offense is among the best in the NFL.
Every drive that presents an opportunity for a touchdown must be taken. Field goals must be seen as failure and a chance for victory squandered. This includes the work done by the special teams unit.
If Brandon Banks muffs another punt, or Billy Cundiff misses another game-leveling field goal, the Redskins have no chance of staying competitive.
Pierre Garcon has shown that he can line up at every receiving position, so expect to see him do just that here. He and Fred Davis need to act as Griffin’s safety net, playing physical football and giving him as many options as possible.
The Redskins need reliable hands in this game, so there can be no dropped passes, either.
Griffin hasn’t got his deep ball going yet, so look for the receivers to run a lot of slant routes and short-yardage plays typical to the standard West Coast offense. The deep balls will be incorporated into the plays, but they're unlikely to be that successful until Griffin finds his rhythm later on in the season.
The roll-outs and bootlegs that we saw during training camp and the preseason games will continue, but Griffin should temper the temptation to make a play at all costs.
The games are serious now, so if it looks like he should just throw the ball away, that’s exactly what he should do.
Win the Turnover Battle
In many ways, the turnovers of 2011 were what sunk the Redskins’ season. The team ranked 30th in turnover margin last year (via TeamRankings.com), which simply isn’t good enough to compete with teams like the Saints. Too many times last year, we saw the hopes of a Redskins victory dashed at the last minute by poor ball-handling or a loss in concentration.
Mike Shanahan spoke to Nick Eilerson in December 2011 and reiterated the impact turnovers can have on a team’s overall record:
Take a look at three games—you’re talking about the two Dallas games, you’re talking about the Jets, talk about the game [against the Patriots]. All of a sudden, you’re 7-6 instead of where you’re at and that’s the difference between winning and losing the games you just mentioned. (Via The Washington Times).
In the same article, Eilerson points out a humbling fact. The loss to the Patriots last year capped off the 27th straight game in which the Redskins had turned the ball over.
Now, it’s easy to blame this on Rex Grossman, but the botched handoff and Griffin’s fumble in the preseason illustrate that there is still work to be done in this area.
These creases need to be immediately ironed out, as giving the ball straight back to Drew Brees is the last thing the defense needs. This also has wider implications on the season as a whole. If you consistently turn the ball over, you consistently lose games. It's a simple as that.
Keep the Defense Honest
The Saints got an unexpected boost with the reinstatement of Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Will Smith (although Vilma won't play) in the wake of the bounty program.
New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will need his linebackers to hurry Griffin, so the Redskins need their offensive line to hold up while he runs through his progressions.
Spagnuolo’s scheme works off a base Tampa Two system, reliant on the front four applying pressure. Quick, accurate throws will peg them back, while support from the running backs will keep the offense unpredictable.
Griffin himself provides a rushing threat that the Saints have no choice to respect, so selling the fakes is going to open running lanes that will be crucial to the team’s success on the ground.
Alfred Morris has so far triumphed as the typical one-cut back that Shanahan is so fond of. Don’t expect Shanahan to change his overall running back philosophy, though. Evan Royster and Roy Helu will get carries alongside Morris, and the Saints need to be aware of the varying threats that these three pose.
Morris will gain the hard yards up the middle, refusing to go to ground and always moving forward. Royster has tremendous field vision and finds the seam as well as anyone, while Helu just has to break one tackle and he’s gone.
More than ever, the rushing game is crucial to setting up the pass this year. Everyone saw Griffin’s superlative final year at Baylor, and it’s been widely reported that some of these Baylor-ian (excuse the fictional word) spread concepts have been integrated into the new Redskins team.
The shotgun is Griffin’s friend here and will buy him some time while simplifying his reads. The pistol, too, will hide the intentions of the running backs until the very last moment, enabling meaningful rushing yards to be gained.
Control the Clock
It’s understandable to bemoan the unsophisticated nature of these concepts, but these are things that Redskins just didn’t do last year and it was to their detriment.
The defense seemed to spend most of every game on the field, which inevitably resulted in them being gassed by the beginning of the fourth quarter. The offense has to play their part and give the defense a break.
If the 'Skins are to succeed against the Saints, they must do it the old-fashioned way: controlling the clock with the running game while stringing together long, patient drives via checkdowns and screen passes.
Shanahan’s offense is built to do this, so it was frustrating to watch them underperform in this area last year. Griffin’s dual-threat capabilities will be an asset here, buying time with his legs and looking for the open man.
The Saints will play man coverage on the Redskins receivers, with the cornerbacks aiming to neutralize the quick curl or hitch routes. This leaves the safeties to pick up any deep or post runners.
This scenario has the potential to leave the running backs open on the flat, taking the pass at the line of scrimmage and finding space between the defenders. The Redskins need these sorts of plays to keep the clock moving, while the Saints will look to jam the receivers at the line and force them out of bounds.
The Redskins need to possess the ball for around 40 minutes of this game to be sure of controlling the clock. This will frustrate the Saints and force Brees into more speculative deep balls to gain ground.
This is undoubtedly the best time to play New Orleans, so if the Redskins can do the five things on this list, victory will be within their grasp.
It's a mammoth task, definitely, but no one ever expected this to be easy.