The New Orleans Saints (7-2) host the 4-5 Washington Redskins this Sunday for a high noon showdown in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. The Saints, winners of seven straight, sit a half game ahead of the Carolina Panthers for the lead in the NFC South. Washington has lost 3 of their last 4 games and are four games behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, but have one of the more dangerous passing attacks in the league.
Today, Canal Street Chronicles will take a look at some of the challenges that the Redskins offense may present to a resurgent New Orleans defense.
NEW ORLEANS PASS DEFENSE vs WASHINGTON PASS OFFENSE
The Saints pass defense has become a strength of the team, climbing to No. 7 in the NFL rankings. They have done it primarily with a very young but talented secondary, a solid defensive line, and an aggressive defensive coordinator. New Orleans has given up an average of less than 160 yards passing over the last seven games, and during that time has intercepted 10 passes and sacked the quarterback 22 times. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, a strong rookie of the year candidate, and second year Ken Crawley have emerged into a pair of shutdown defenders, and have virtually taken opposing wide receivers out of relevance. Their coverage success has allowed Saints safeties and linebackers to play a variety of different coverage packages against the opposition's tight ends and running backs that have limited their effectiveness, as well as allowed coordinator Dennis Allen to employ different blitz and coverage packages. Ends Cam Jordan (7 sacks) and Alex Okafor (4.5 sacks) have each been effective rushers, but the Saints have gotten sacks from 12 different players.
The Redskins have the league's 9th ranked passing attack, averaging around 252 yards per game. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been a bit inconsistent this season, eclipsing 300 yards passing three times, but producing under 225 yards in four games. He has 14 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, but has been sacked 23 times. When he does get the protection, Cousins has a variety of targets at his disposal. Running back Chris Thompson leads Washington in both receptions (38) and receiving yards (494) while tying for the team lead with 3 scoring receptions. Slot receiver Jamison Cowder is small in size at just 5'8, but is a favorite target of Cousins in big situations. He has 32 catches for 348 yards and although yet to score, he is a threat from anywhere on the field. Former 1st round pick Josh Doctson (15 receptions for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns) and offseason free agent addition Terrelle Pryor (20 catches for 240 and a score) have been slight disappointments for a team looking to replace two 1,000-yard receivers, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, that departed from a year ago. Fourth year pro Ryan Grant has stepped up, already producing a career best 27 receptions for 279 yards, but is in concussion protocol and may miss this game against the Saints. The Redskins do have 2 talented pass catchers at the tight end position in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Reed is a pro bowl caliber player that has struggled with injury throughout his career, and has 27 receptions for 211 yards and 2 scores in just five games of action. Reed has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, and is questionable to play against New Orleans. Davis has been effective with Reed in and out of the lineup, second on the team with 460 receiving yards on 30 catches, and has shown the form that made him a downfield threat early in his career with the San Francisco 49ers.
NEW ORLEANS RUN DEFENSE vs WASHINGTON RUN OFFENSE
The Saints run defense has been more stingy than their 16th ranking would indicate. They've given up less than 100 yards rushing in 4 of the last 6 games, and have for the most part held their opponents running attack in check. The concern for New Orleans is the tendency to give up 1 or 2 big rushes per game, usually due to a breakdown in containment or gap responsibility. The Saints have done a solid job of attacking an opponent's backfield, starting from an interior push from defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata. Safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell have been outstanding in-the-box defenders. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Craig Robertson have been adequate in pass coverage, but their strengths are run support and pursuit. Ten New Orleans defenders have at least 25 tackles, a mark of the solid team defense that the Saints have played so far this season.
A 23rd ranked Redskins rushing attack was further weakened this week when their leading rusher from a year ago, Rob Kelley, was placed on injured reserve. Washington has averaged less than 97 yards rushing per game this season, and have rushed for less than 100 yards in each of their last five games. Leading receiver Chris Thompson is also the team's leading rusher, with 277 yards. He is a versatile weapon that is an underrated league talent, but is undersized for the role of an every down back. Rookie 4th round pick Samaje Perine is a bruising back that Washington looks to for the tough yards, but averages just 3.2 yards per carry.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The last time these teams met, on November 15, 2015, Cousins completed 80% of his passes for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns and no interceptions, while the Washington run game gashed the Saints defense for 209 yards. Expect a far different result this time from a much improved New Orleans defense. The Washington running game shouldn't pose a big threat here, so expect the Saints to bring extra rushers to hit Cousins or try to rush him into his throws. Lattimore and Crawley have already shut down more prolific receivers than they'll face in Crowder, Doctson, and Pryor, but the Saints safeties and linebackers will need to contain Thompson out of the backfield, along with the Redskins tight ends. Klein may miss this game due to injury, so if Vaccaro returns to the lineup after missing last week, expect him to play even more of the hybrid role closer to the line of scrimmage, leaving back end responsibility to Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams.
Is this a "trap game" for the Saints defense?
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