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Keys to Success: Saints should rely on smash mouth formula to defeat finesse Redskins

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If the 2010 Saints could play the 2017 Saints, it would look like this game and my money would be on the team that runs the ball well and plays good defense.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember the mirror matches in Mortal Kombat?

What about the 2010 Saints team that saw Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas share the backfield (injuries), Jeremy Shockey and Jimmy Graham platoon at TE, a defense that couldn’t match the success from ‘09 due to up and down play, and a QB (Drew Brees) just hitting his prime throwing to a cast of WRs that was the sum of all its parts?

When I look at the Redskins team the Saints will be facing this week, I can’t help but feel like the Saints will be matching up against a Doppelganger of their old selves.

They’ve got Kirk Cousins in his prime, an injured backfield with two RBs in Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson, two TEs in Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed, a cast of talented but not complete WRs, and a solid defense that hasn’t found its consistency all year.

Know what else they have in common with the Saints teams of old? They are a finesse team incapable of punching anyone in the mouth or running the ball consistently (23rd in NFL).

But, they beat the Seahawks at home you retort?

The Seahawks are currently toothless on the o-line and d-line. It’s why they made trades for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown during the season.

With that being said, I went back to the 2010 season and searched for an away game versus a team playing with a similar smash mouth philosophy to our current team. I stumbled across the Ravens game in Week 15 that the Saints lost 24-30 and listened to the interviews (coaches/players) after the game.

Both sides had a lot to say about how the game was won/lost, and the gist of those opinions will be this week’s Keys to Success vs. the Redskins.

Blitz and Get Your Hands Up 7UP

There was a pivotal play in that game that saw Brees get a ball tipped by Haloti Ngata and it resulted in an INT to Cory Redding. John Harbaugh talked about how the plan was to keep Brees in the pocket and collapse it to disrupt his throwing lanes because he’s a shorter QB. He also mentioned trusting the coverage, blitzing heavily, and getting 4-man pressures with stunts and games. Kirk Cousins comes in with the exact same disadvantage, and the Saints enter this game with a d-line that is known for disrupting QBs in these manners. Tipped balls turn into big plays and lane integrity when rushing will be important. If the QB doesn’t have great vision because the d-line is collapsing the pocket, it’s hard to make tight throws.

Throat Meet Running Game

The Ravens ran the ball 39 times. Ray Rice had 153 yards on 31 attempts and a TD while also catching 5 passes for 80 yards and a TD. Sean Payton was quick to give credit to the job Rice did. Harbaugh gave credit to the o-line and Rice, and in turn Rice tossed credit to to the hogs and WRs for blocking. Hmmm, the Saints have two RBs capable of that production, an o-line capable of imposing its will in similar fashion, and blocking WRs that help turn moderate runs into longer ones. I’ve seen folks suggest that the Saints come out passing the ball and I disagree - stick with the current identity and run the pigskin. The one caveat I’ll throw in is that the Saints running game success will probably have to come out of sub packages as the have a pretty stout base defense and may look to drop a S in the box in those situations.

Eliminate the Screen Game

Oct 15, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (25) avoids the tackle by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (54) during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (25) avoids the tackle by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (54) during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Came across an interesting stat that suggested the Redskins are ranked 2nd in the league in screen yardage. This is all about the prowess of the play caller and knowing when to expect pressure. While the Saints don’t have the LBs to matchup with their RBs, they do have a smart defensive line with rangy guys that hustle to the ball. Much like the coordinator needs to know when to expect the blitz and make the call, the defense needs to be aware of situations when they should expect the screen to come. The individuals on the d-line needs to feel the blocks from the offensive linemen that say “suckering you in here” and resist the urge to go all out after the QB in those moments so they can help in pursuit.

Player to Watch versus Redskins - Manti Te’o, LB

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I was tempted to put Coby Fleener here because of Washington’s inability to cover the TE, but he made this spot last week so Te’o gets the nod. With A.J. Klein missing time, it will be interesting to see how the Saints choose to play their sub packages. Te’o has been used exclusively as a 2-down LB because of his issues in coverage and lack of range. That leaves the Saints with two options this week: Trot him out in nickel/sub packages in place of Klein and try to cover his weaknesses, or create a new package with more DBs on the field and one of our safeties (like Kenny Vaccaro) lining up at LB in place of their fallen captain.

Perhaps if I hadn’t watched the Saints demolish a road team on the ground the way they did vs. Buffalo, I wouldn’t be as confident in this game. It’s not that I don’t recognize the Skins as a good team - I do. It’s just the Skins will continue their unlucky streak of going against better teams than them. Their strength of schedule to date has been close to tops in the league, and this weeks game only circles that truth in bright green neon lights. The Skins will make it interesting, but like Drew said in his press conference after the loss to the Ravens, “I think we’re a great road team, we just ran into a very good opponent.

My Prediction: Saints 34 - Redskins 23

Who Dat!