Most of the focus will be on the debut of Robert Griffin III when the Washington Redskins take on the New Orleans Saints Sunday. However, the real issue will be how the Redskins can stop Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense.
That's a challenge at any time, but is made even tougher by the Redskins' issues in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will have to scheme ways to protect a defensive backfield woefully short at the safety position.
Here are the three things the Redskins defense has to get right if they hope to limit Brees and his deep and talented supporting cast:
Win one-on-one pass-rush matchups on the outside
When the St. Louis Rams shocked the Saints in Week 8 of the 2011 season, the upset win was keyed by their ability to beat the offensive tackles in pass protection. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn won their one-on-one matchups on the outside and the Redskins must do the same.
Fortunately, Washington's defense has the personnel to do just that. Rush linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan can have big games against Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief. Orakpo has the power and quick takeoff to cause Bushrod plenty of problems.
The Saints left tackle is often sluggish out of his stance and struggles to cope with a solid bull rush. Over on the other side, Kerrigan's use of hands and range of movement can set up and defeat Strief.
The Redskins must pressure Brees with three- and four-man rushes
It is essential for the Redskins to pressure Brees with just a three- or a four-man rush. Winning up front will allow the Redskins to commit more people to the coverage scheme.
Given the wide range of weapons Brees has at his disposal, Haslett would be wise to use seven- and eight-man coverage schemes. Crowding the zones against the likes of Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Darren Sproles can limit the Redskins' exposure to the big play.
Rushing only three or four and packing the zones worked to perfection against the New York Giants in Week 15 of last season. With the personnel available in the secondary, the Redskins should again opt for a quantity-over-quality approach in their coverage schemes.
Double cover Jimmy Graham
One of the main advantages to using numbers in coverage is that it will allow the Redskins to double up on a Saints receiver. The one player Washington should double cover is Jimmy Graham.
No Redskins defender can deal with the prolific tight end alone. While Colston, Henderson and Sproles are all excellent receivers, Graham is the one player who can beat the Redskins by himself. He presents matchup problems at every level of the defense.
Haslett should double him with a safety and a third corner on deep hook and curl patterns. From the base defense, it is vital to bump Graham and prevent a clean release off the line of scrimmage, before bracketing him with underneath cover and over-the-top help.
Haslett is in an odd position, personnel-wise. He has the weapons up front to risk a straight rush without supplementing it with heavy blitzing. However, in the secondary a lack of depth and quality means he will have to compensate with greater numbers and some combination coverages.
The same tactic worked for the Redskins against the Giants and more importantly, for the Rams against the Saints, last season. If Orakpo, Kerrigan and the defensive line win their battles, the Redskins will be able to frustrate Brees and keep the game closer for longer.