Redskins safeties Reed Doughty and LaRon Landry vs. Saints quarterback Drew Brees
The Redskins upset the eventual NFC South champions in December 2006 by playing fundamental defense, eschewing then-defensive boss Gregg Williams’ usual blitzes and elaborate packages. In September 2008, the Redskins beat the Saints as rookie safety Chris Horton forced three turnovers in his first start.
Williams is now running the Saints’ defense, and Horton is on injured reserve. Washington’s defense is much improved from 2006, but New Orleans’ offense just might be better, too.
What hasn’t changed is the wizardry of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who would be the unquestioned MVP if Brett Favre and Peyton Manning also weren’t having great years for terrific teams. Brees is the main reason New Orleans has 18 plays of 35 yards or more.
Albert Haynesworth, out the past two games with an ailing ankle, could return to the middle of Washington’s defensive line, freeing pass-rushers Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo to try to tee off on Brees. Even so, there’s plenty of pressure on Doughty, the secondary’s top tackler but its slowest member, and Landry, the hardest hitter but a poor tackler, to try to out-think Brees.
Their task is tougher because top cornerback DeAngelo Hall isn’t likely to play because of a sprained knee, making Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot, each of whom has been benched this season, the starters. It also doesn’t help the Redskins’ upset hopes that Williams knows the strengths and weaknesses of all four expected starters in the secondary.
1. Play keep-away
No offense is more dangerous than New Orleans’. The Saints can score seemingly at will. The Redskins can only hope replacing Edwin Williams with the bigger Mike Williams at right guard will improve the running game so they can keep the ball away from the Saints.
2. Limit big plays
After allowing just one play as long as 35 yards during the first six games, the Redskins surrendered eight in the past five games, including three in last week’s loss to Philadelphia - all in the air. Six Saints players have catches of at least 35 yards, led by deep threat Devery Henderson, who has a 20.9-yard career average.
3. Do it on special teams
If there’s an area where the Redskins have the edge, it’s here. Washington has yet to score a return touchdown, but Devin Thomas is more of a threat to take a kickoff to the house than predecessor Rock Cartwright was. The same is true of Santana Moss on punt returns instead of Antwaan Randle El.