The New Orleans Saints will face the Washington Redskins on Monday night football in their first Prime Time game of the season. The Saints, 3-1 and winners of three straight, have been up and down with their defensive performances this season, particularly struggling against the pass. They are coming off of their best defensive performance of the year last week though, shutting down the New York Giants on the road. They now take on the 2-1 Redskins, who are coming off a bye week. Washington is averaging just 21 points per game, but has moved the ball effectively in their two wins. Despite last week's showing, the Saints defense is still giving up an average of 30 points per game, and continues to struggle getting opposing offenses off the field. Today we have a look at how the New Orleans defense matches up against their Monday night opponent.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. REDSKINS RUN DEFENSE
The Saints are one of the best in the league at stopping the run. They are allowing less than 80 yards per game on the ground, and opponents average just 3.2 yards per carry against them. Defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and Taylor Stallworth have bullied opposing run blockers, not only winning the point of attack but often pushing their men into the backfield. This has allowed the New Orleans linebackers to attack the gaps and flow to the ball in pursuit more freely. Demario Davis (37 tackles)has played outstanding football over the last few weeks, and is one of the league's most dominant run defenders. Manti Te'o is questionable to return this week after missing the last two games, but A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone, and Craig Robertson have combined for solid and productive play. Defensive ends Cam Jordan and Alex Okafor are each well-rounded defenders who are every bit as good against the run as they are against the pass. Rookie Marcus Davenport has improved against the run each week, and altered several plays in the Giants offensive backfield last week.
Washington averages 137 yards per game on the ground, but 174 in their two wins. Promising second round pick Derrius Guice was slated to be the team's top back, but suffered a torn ACL in preseason and was lost for the year. The Redskins also lost running backs Rob Kelley and Byron Marshall to injury until at least midseason while last year's leading rusher, Samaje Perine, has missed the last three games with injury. Washington responded to their wave of injuries by signing 12-yr. veteran Adrian Peterson, who looks to prove that he still has some pop in his 33-yr. old legs. The results so far have been encouraging for Redskin fans, as Peterson opened the year by running for 96 yards and a score, then 120 yards and two touchdowns in a week three victory over Green Bay. Peterson, who is nursing an ankle injury and may not be at full strength Monday night, has averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and can still run with power between the tackles. Running back Chris Thompson is Washington's most versatile offensive player. He provides a change of pace style to Peterson's power, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and is an accomplished receiver. Thompson's 20 receptions lead the team, while his 155 receiving yards are second. Washington's interior line has done a good job getting push for Peterson to find running room, but guard Shawn Lauvao missed their last game with a calf injury that may also sideline him for this game.
~ Key matchup: Demario Davis vs. Adrian Peterson/Chris Thompson ~
Peterson, who of course started the 2017 season with the Saints before getting traded to Arizona after four games and a lowly 3 yd. average per carry, has downplayed his departure from New Orleans all week. Peterson may be just a shadow of his former explosive self, but he can still push a pile and move the chains. Thompson's receiving skills and open field abilities have given the New Orleans defense trouble in the past, and must be contained by the Saints linebacking corps. New Orleans linebackers have generally done a solid job this year of limiting opposing backs, although Saquon Barkley broke a big run and had nearly 60 yards receiving last Sunday. Demario Davis is beginning to play at a Pro Bowl level, and is spearheading improved play by the entire linebacker unit. The New Orleans defensive line must continue to win it's battles up front in the running game, but it will be Davis and the linebackers that must be able to stuff Peterson in the backfield and limit Thompson in the open field.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
The Saints have allowed 311 yards per game through the air this season and have given up 11 passing touchdowns. They did have their best outing of the season in last week's win over New York, holding Giant wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard to a combined 133 yards receiving and most importantly, zero big plays down the field. Beckham in particular was visibly frustrated at being held in check, mainly due to the tight coverage from Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The second year Lattimore looks to be back to his Pro Bowl form of a year ago after a rough regular season opener against Tampa Bay. Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams continue to have their struggles at the other corner spots though, and continue to be probably this defense's most vulnerable area. New Orleans signed former Viking and Buccaneer starter Josh Robinson, along with recently released Packer cornerback Demetri Goodson this week to bolster depth and provide possible competition. The Saints were able to nullify big play chances from Beckham and Shepard due to better communication on the back end as well, and are getting much better play from safeties Williams and Vonn Bell. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is using his linebackers in a variety of ways to defend the passing game, mixing blitzes and coverage drops in hopes of keeping opposing passers uncomfortable. Demario Davis had two big sacks of New York's Eli Manning last week, while A.J. Klein and Craig Robertson have proven to be effective in blitz packages as well. The Saints defensive tackles have combined for two sacks so far (Rankins and Davison), but have the capability to provide inside pressure. Ends Cameron Jordan (4 sacks), Alex Okafor, and Marcus Davenport (1 sack) have been inconsistent at pressuring the quarterback, but are a handful for any offensive tackle and have the potential to take over a game.
Redskins tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses will look to control the Saints edge rush. The Washington line is a bit banged up, and allowed six sacks in the team's first two games. Williams (knee) and Moses (concussion protocol) are question marks entering this game, while guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao have each been limited by leg injuries. After trading for quarterback Alex Smith to replace the departed free agent Kirk Cousins, the Washington passing attack has not been as dynamic as in recent years. The Skins have averaged 265 yards passing, but Smith has thrown just four touchdown passes. Unlike with Cousins, when they often employed a downfield attack, Smith is more effective using a shorter and safe attack to spread the defense from sideline to sideline. Tight end Jordan Reed (14 catches, and a team high 168 yards) is second to running back Chris Thompson in receptions, but Smith has a few big play wideouts to threaten defenses. Jamison Crowder, who led the team in catches and receiving yards last year, is a small but lightening quick wideout who can find the open spots in coverage and make plays after the catch. Free agent signee Paul Richardson is a dangerous deep threat who can make the tough reception in traffic. Josh Doctson, the team's first round pick in 2016, may miss this game with a heel injury, but if able to play will present another matchup issue for the New Orleans secondary.
~ Key matchup to watch: Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell vs. TE's Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis
Alex Smith has always used his tight ends very effectively throughout his career, and he has two good ones with Washington. Both Reed and Davis can cause mismatches due to their physicality and athleticism, and the New Orleans secondary has had major problems against each player in the past. We can expect to see Crawley or P.J. Williams draw some coverage responsibilities against them during the game, as well as the Saints linebackers out of some formations. The middle of the field though, where Reed and Davis are most effective, is where the Saints safeties will need to make plays. Williams has the team's only interception on the year so far, but both he and Bell have played better in coverage after a rocky start to the season. Bell had an outstanding game against the Redskins in last year's meeting, finishing with 13 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in the Saints overtime win.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
This is a slightly different Washington offense than the one that has averaged 333 passing yards and 37 points in their last four meetings against New Orleans. Alex Smith typically operates an offense that doesn't produce alot of big plays, but will beat an opponent with efficiency. As most Saints fans know from his days with San Francisco and Kansas City however, Smith has the capability to make the necessary plays to win. Expect Dennis Allen to aggressively pressure Washington's banged up offensive line with the New Orleans front seven, hoping to bottle up the Redskin running game and force Smith into quick throws. The Saints secondary must again prevent deep completions, but must also shut down Crowder, Richardson, and Thompson in the open field. New Orleans forced two New York turnovers, both fumbles, in last week's victory, bringing their total to just 3 turnovers forced in four games. The Saints defense is playing with an increased confidence after last Sunday's performance, and will likely be extremely aggressive to start the game Monday night. Early success against Washington could lead to turnovers and big plays, and lead to an increase in defensive momentum as they head into a bye week, then the most difficult part of their schedule.
What is the Saints biggest defensive key to success against the Redskins offense?
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Demario Davis and the LB's vs. Peterson/Thompson
Marcus Williams/Vonn Bell vs. Jordan Reed/Vernon Davis
Lattimore/Crawley/Williams vs. Richardson/Crowder/Doctson
Cam/Davenport/Okafor vs. Trent Williams/Morgan Moses
Rankins/Davison/Stallworth vs. Redskins interior line