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Interview with the Enemy: Washington Redskins

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Bill from Hogs Haven answers a few questions before our Week 11 matchup in New Orleans

New Orleans Saints v Washington Redskins Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

It’s Week 11, and we’re back again with the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Bill Horgan of Hogs Haven answers 5 quick questions about the upcoming matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins.

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At 4-5 and third place in the NFC East, are Redskins playing in must-win mode or is the franchise already looking to 2018 and beyond?

Well, nobody is worrying about 2018 right now. The Redskins are playing for a wildcard berth in the playoffs.

The first 11 weeks of the season have turned out to be a brutal run for the Redskins.

Let me just summarize the easy games for you: We played the 49ers in Week 6.

The rest of the schedule has been a lineup of playoff teams: The 8-1 Eagles (twice), the 7-2 Rams, the 6-3 Chiefs, the 6-3 Seahawks, and the 7-2 Vikings. Of course, we get to keep the parade going for one more week with a visit to New Orleans to play the 7-2 Saints.

Six of the Redskins first ten games are against teams ranked in the top-10 in this week’s Power Rankings on NFL.com, and the overall record of the Redskins opponents in Weeks 1-11 is 59-32 (a 64.8% winning percentage).

I hear you asking; so what’s the point?

Well, the good news for the Redskins is that that kind of brutal schedule can’t last for a full season, and from Weeks 12-17 we play 5 games against opponents with a combined record of 12-32. None of those teams has a winning record.

The 6th game remaining on the schedule is against division rival Dallas, who will be playing without Zeke Elliott. In the Cowboys’ game this past Sunday (their first game without Elliott since he was drafted) they lost to Atlanta 27-7.

I think there’s a very real opportunity for the Redskins – who have been playing good football against playoff teams – to run the table in their final six games to finish with 10 or 11 wins. That may not be good enough to get into the playoffs in a tough NFC this season, but if the ‘Skins can get wins against the Giants and Cowboys in Weeks 12 & 13, then the final quarter of the season, playing against 4 teams with no playoff hopes at all, should provide opportunity and excitement for Washington and its fans.

The Redskins will be going to New Orleans this week with every intention of getting the W.

To say Terrell Pryor has failed to live up to expectations this season would be an understatement. Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore typically lines up against the opposing team's #1 WR. This year, this week, would that be Jameison Crowder or Josh Doctson?

Jamison Crowder is the slot receiver, and he’s had a sub-par year.

Josh Doctson was drafted in 2016 to be the Redskins #1 receiver (Jay Gruden said that in exactly that way just three weeks ago), but he lost his rookie season to injury. He is, in effect, playing his rookie season now, and over the past few games it has become clear that the Gruden is putting a priority on getting him the ball. I expect that upward trend in targets to continue, especially if Doc keeps making catches like the big one he pulled in against the Seahawks.

Brian Quick (formerly of the Rams) made another game-changing catch against the Seahawks. He had seen only a handful of snaps all year prior to the Seattle game, but played extensively in Week 9 due to injury to Ryan Grant. Quick’s catch came on the final, game-winning drive, and he took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit at the sideline after catching the ball.

That hit put Quick into the concussion protocol. With Quick unavailable, the Redskins promoted Maurice Harris from the practice squad for the Vikings game in Week 10. Here’s his highlight reel catch from that game.

Usually when you hear that a guy came from the practice squad, you don’t expect much. Mo was active for a few games in 2016, and he played very well in limited action. Coming out of training camp, most Redskin fans had him projected to be on the 53-man roster, and there was a dismay when he was announced as a cut. Most of us didn’t think he’d make it to the Practice Squad. Now that the rest of the NFL has seen the catch against the Vikings, I don’t think Mo can be ‘stashed’ anymore.

So, the Redskins have Doctson, who is seeing his role expand, and who has racked up two or three big plays already this season, Crowder, who played well last year but has been slowed a bit by injury this year, Ryan Grant, who has had the most consistent production, Brian Quick, a former high draft pick who made a tough catch to help win the Seattle game, and Maurice Harris, who is a huge fan favorite, and – at 6’3”, 200 pounds – has the physique and the skills to become a future NFL star.

At this point, the only reasons not to cut Terrelle Pryor are (i) with his contract structure, there’s no real reason to cut a healthy player from a team that is dealing with a rash of injuries; and (ii) the front office would look pretty silly if they cut him now.

If you were Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints, how would you game plan to attack the Washington defense?

The way the Saints have been playing, they don’t need any help or advice from me, but I’ll offer some thoughts.

The Redskins have lost two interior DL starters in recent weeks, including their 2017 first round draft pick, Jonathan Allen from Alabama, who is out for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Prior to that, the ‘Skins were effective in slowing good running backs, and stopping average running backs. They were also getting excellent interior push when defending passing plays, allowing our very good OLBs (Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith) to get a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The most effective offensive production for most teams in the first half of the season came from ‘broken plays’ involving mobile quarterbacks who were pressured, escaped, and extended broken plays. I’m talking Carson Wentz (twice), Alex Smith, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson… these guys had success when they were able to extend plays, but the pressure from the Redskins D was pretty relentless.

The run-stuffing and pass-rush pressure seems to have changed now, with the loss of Allen and Matt Iaonnidis (while you may not know his name, he was having a pro-bowl type season prior to breaking his hand in the game against the Cowboys).

I’d run the ball right up the middle with your talented running backs to exploit the weakness of Ziggy Hood, a natural 3-4 DE who is out of place as a NT. And if the Redskins start to get pressure on Brees in long-yardage plays, I’d throw screen passes to Kamara anytime there’s man cover (and maybe even against zone… he may be shifty enough).

If the Redskins are not getting quick pressure because your O-line is winning at the LOS (or if you can slow the rush with the running game and screens) then I’d attack deep against Deangelo Hall at safety. He’s old, he’s rusty from being injured most of the past two seasons, he’s a natural CB who still makes mistakes at Safety, he’s only playing because of injury to Montae Nicholson, who was playing because of the loss of Su’a Cravens just prior to the start of the season. DHall looked slow against the Vikings. Drew Brees has the experience and the arm to deal with the pressure, and to make good decisions about when and where to attack with the deep ball.

I’d avoid outside zone runs unless you have a good blocking plan. Zach Brown (#53) is a pro-bowl linebacker who leads the NFL in tackles, and who has 4.5 speed. DJ Swearinger is a big hitting safety who is effective in run support, and the Redskins have three CBs who like to tackle (Josh Norman, Baushaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller), and who often clean up ball carriers who try to get outside the numbers running east-to-west.

Which player that Saints fans might not have heard of do you expect to make a big impact on the game?

The Redskins have been hard-hit by injury at the inside linebacker position. One starter, Zach Brown, has stayed healthy, but the other Week 1 starter, Mason Foster, was recently sent to IR due to complications from a dislocated shoulder.

He was replaced in the past two games by Will Compton, who started for the Redskins whenever he was healthy last season. Compton was injured against the Vikings, so the next man up is Martrell Spaight.

Spaight was drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, and he’s gotten better every year. He plays faster than his 40-speed, is strong against the run, and is a ‘downhill thumper’ from his ILB position. He has made several big plays this season, accumulating 31 tackles in the 4 games where he has played significant snaps.

Spaight is 6’0” and 243 pounds. He wears #50, and is usually found with his arms wrapped around the ball carrier.

I noticed that your lead back, Rob Kelley, was injured in the game against the Vikings. How does that affect the Redskins offense?

Yeah, Rob Kelley has had a tough season. He injured his ankle early in the season and missed a game. When he came back, he broke some ribs, and missed more playing time. By Week 6, our lead back had only carried the ball 29 times.

According to Jay Gruden, Rob Kelley now has an MCL sprain and aggravated his high ankle injury. He will be out ‘several weeks’, and may be put on IR.

This means that the running back situation is unsettled going into the game in New Orleans; the Redkins have only 2 healthy running backs, and will need to sign another, probably before Wednesday.

The Redskins entered the season with 4 RBs on the roster, but when injuries piled up on the offensive line (the team had lost 5 of top 6 offensive linemen by the end of the Cowboys game in Week 8) the team needed to add healthy linemen to the roster. Since the OL starter injuries were all short-term, the team waived the #4 running back, Mack Brown, intending to re-sign him the following Monday.

Instead, the Vikings claimed Brown off of waivers. That means that, with the loss of Kelley, the Redskins have only two running backs available for the game this week.

Chris Thompson has been the most productive offensive player on the team tis season, but CT is the 3rd down & long yardage back; he is primarily part of the passing attack. At 5’8” and 191 pounds, he’s not built to take a lot of punishment. Gruden would like to limit him to 12 – 15 touches per game, but he’s been so effective that he’s been getting closer to 20 per game in recent weeks.

Kelley’s backup, and the presumed starter for this week’s game, is Samaje Perine, the Redskins 4th round pick out of Oklahoma in this year’s draft.

Perine was a strong bruiser with a good burst burst in college, but he hasn’t really gotten going this season with the Redskins.

He has put the ball on the ground several times, though his statistics don’t show a lot of fumbles. He dropped a lateral from Cousins, which was charged to the QB. Last week he made a mistake that led to a missed handoff; again, the fumble was charged to Cousins despite it being Perine’s fault. He got hit at the sideline on one run, just as his foot touched the sideline. He coughed up the ball, but it wasn’t recorded because he was technically out-of-bounds when the hit occurred. And then there are the 1 recorded fumble he’s had on 66 rushing attempts this season. Perine has been loose with the football as a rookie.

Perine was drafted to replace Matt Jones, who was cut (ironically enough) because he fumbled too much.

In addition to his ball security issues, Perine has not been consistently productive. He averages 3.2 yards per carry, has no rushing touchdowns, and his longest run has been just 12 yards.

The Redskins need markedly improved production from Perine, and the running game in general. From Jay Gruden’s press conference following the loss to the Vikings:

“I think we’ve got to get {Perine] more carries. I think with Rob’s injury now, we’ll see a lot more Samaje down the stretch here and I think he’s probably… By looking at him at Oklahoma and what we’ve seen from the little bit of him here, [he’s] probably better as the game goes on. I think he’s the type of guy that can wear down a defense and then his low center of gravity will take over and he’ll be able to bounce off some tackles.

I just want to see more production. That’s all, and he’s got to get the opportunity. We’ve got to see, like I said, if we have a guy unblocked in the hole, it’s run him over or make him miss, something, or make sure we continue to get positive yards and keep the chains in favorable down and distance and avoid the negative plays. He’s going to get better and better the more reps he gets and the more carries. So we will get a great look at him.”

Jay Gruden made it clear that the Redskins would be adding another running back ahead of Sunday’s game, but there’s no indication who that runner will be. Asked if the Redskins would consider putting Kelley on IR, Jay replied,

“Possibility, yeah. I think it depends on how much time – three, four, five weeks, six weeks. We’ll have to wait and see, gather that information, see how many roster spots we have for other guys to fill voids. Obviously, we have to sign a running back, we need a spot there.”

“We’ll have to go get one, for sure. Whether we claim one on a practice squad or pick up a free agent, have some workouts, we’ll have to get another one in here quickly.”

We’re looking for the best available talented guy and our guys have been on top of the practice squads all year. [They] brought some names to our attention, myself and Randy [Jordan], and we’ll watch the film and come up with a player that we want to get. It’s not like we can just say, ‘Hey, come with us.’ They’ve still got to come. They could stay at their teams. So, we have four or five options right now we’re looking at and ranked them in order and we’ll try to get the first one and if we can’t get the him, we’ll get the second one. So on and so forth.”

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Thank-you, Bill, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Bill and the work his guys are doing over at Hogs Haven. You can follow them on Twitter @HogsHaven, and as always you can follow me @dunnellz.