The New Orleans Saints are 6.0 favorites at home vs the Redskins and everyone is predicting at least 52.5 combined points between the teams.
I mean why not?
Last year when the Redskins visited New Orleans their plan of attack was to match the Saints offense score for score and it resulted in an exciting back and forth that wasn’t secured until a 4th Quarter comeback spearheaded by the legend himself.
Things are different this time around for the Redskins and it starts with Alex Smith.
Last year through their first 3 games the Redskins threw the ball 97 times and averaged 23.3 points per game. In their 4th game they traveled to Kansas City to face a team with a superior scoring offense containing explosive play makers that they’d need to stop to have a shot at victory(sound familiar)?
In that game they had Kirk Cousins attempt the lowest number of passes he’d throw all season (24) and resulted in his 3rd best game of the year (116.7) QB rating but would also mark the last time he’d have fewer than 25 attempts.
They ended up losing that game as Cousins was out dueled by the more efficient Smith.
Insert the former Chiefs QB
Through their first 3 games the Redskins have thrown the ball 96 times with Smith and are averaging 21.3 points per game. While a slight down tick from last years numbers the defense is allowing nearly a touchdown less. They also seemed to figure out their formula a week early as Smith saw his numbers drop to only 20 pass attempts last week in the win over Green Bay.
This seems like a defensive team that does not wish to play the same ball game it did a year ago.
I look for Alex Smith to throw the ball under 25 times and for Jay Gruden and company to attempt to shorten the game and play to the strengths of their defense. During an interview this week Gruden actually chided himself for a “dumb” call that he felt cost them the game last year and that points to a coach who’d prefer to be less aggressive this time around.
Smith gives him the perfect pairing for this type of game plan and IMHO a better chance at winning as he’s sort of been a Saints killer in his career (2011 NFC Championship game).
Let’s take a look at some Key Match-ups the Saints will need to win to succeed in this game.
Saints LB’s vs Redskins Offense
Gruden’s system is as West Coast as Snoop Dogg and shouldn’t be much different than what the Saints defense has practiced against vs their own offense(with Taysom Hill). Their gameplan will consist of sleight of hand tactics that target Saints linebackers to clear the middle of the field as RPO’s and play action should draw them in for easy completions behind them. The attack continues with the use of their RB’s in the short passing game testing out their range and coverage ability. If this isn’t enough they still have to contend with a persistent running game spearheaded by Adrian Peterson. Demario Davis, A.J. Klein, and Alex Anzalone will have their work cut out for them.
Saints interior O-line vs Redskins interior D-line
If Drew has ever had a kryptonite its been interior pressure. The Saints offensive line as a unit has played well but it’s interior has had questionable individual performances from Peat, Unger, and Warford. Washington has a talented front three that consist of two former 1st rounders in Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, as well as 5th rounder Matt Ioannidis whom is disruptive and leads that unit with three sacks. Drew is often mentioned as throwing to spots and is working with rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith this week. If their interior collapses the pocket Drew could find his vision impeded and end up throwing to a spot where a receiver is supposed to be only to find a Redskins defender in the way.
Saints Safeties vs Big Play
Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell will have to show up this game. Jay Gruden likes to mix in shot plays with his west coast concepts that can catch a center-fielder sleeping and he’s also leaned on his TE’s to exploit match-ups in opposing secondaries. Two roles that have been afforded to this safety duo this year with varying results. Both have had their gaffes with O.J. Howard having his way with Bell in week 1 and deep balls seemingly getting by Williams on a regular basis early in the season. They’ve both recently improved and will face a staunch test in the way of their continued upward trend.
Random Thought - Drew will not break the record this week. He’ll instead do it vs the Ravens following a bye week.
The Redskins are a team the Saints don’t match-up well against schematically and it’s why last year’s game even with a home tilt was close. Washington is healthier and has better QB and defensive play this time around. It’s true the Saints haven’t beaten a winning team this year and this will be a good litmus test for where they are as a team. If there was ever a game the defense would need to win it’ll be this one because I think Gruden will be less likely to allow Drew a chance to beat him again. He’ll want to put the pressure on the defense instead. (Redskins 24 Saints 23)