- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

KEY MATCHUP

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.

THREE KEYS

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.

THE EDGE

WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL

After not topping 17 points all season, Jim Zorn’s offense scored 27 on Nov. 15 against Denver and 24 last week at Philadelphia. Part of that increase has come from improvement on third down (23-for-48 the past three games compared with 34-for-102 in the first eight). The Redskins achieved that without top running back Clinton Portis, ace tight end Chris Cooley and veteran blockers Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas. Their replacements will have to step up this week to keep quarterback Jason Campbell upright and give him time to find his targets against an aggressive New Orleans defense. The Saints have forced 32 turnovers, 22 of which were interceptions.

Edge: Saints

WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL

The Redskins’ tendency to allow big plays the past five games is scary with Drew Brees and Co. visiting. The almost sure absence of top cornerback DeAngelo Hall only makes matters worse. Top pass-rusher Andre Carter (nine sacks) could be a difference-maker against young Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod. The good news for Washington is that Albert Haynesworth could return to bolster a run defense that the Cowboys and Eagles burned for 276 yards the past two weeks. But the Saints run the ball better than both of those teams.

Edge: Saints

SPECIAL TEAMS

Washington’s coverage units are the NFC’s best. New Orleans’ coverage teams are the worst. The Saints score so many touchdowns that ageless John Carney has tried only 17 field goals. He’s just 7-for-11 beyond 29 yards. Washington’s Shaun Suisham is 15-for-17, including 15-for-16 under 50 yards. One-time wunderkind Reggie Bush has been even more of a disaster on punt returns (3.8-yard average) than Washington veteran Antwaan Randle El (4.5). New Orleans’ Courtney Roby returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. With Rock Cartwright starting at running back, Devin Thomas is returning more kickoffs and is more of a threat to break one.

Edge: Redskins

REDSKINS

STARTERS

Offense

WR89Santana Moss

LT76Levi Jones

LG66Derrick Dockery

C61Casey Rabach

RG71Mike Williams

RT74Stephon Heyer

TE86Fred Davis

WR11Devin Thomas

QB17Jason Campbell

RB31Rock Cartwright

FB45Mike Sellers

Defense

DE93Phillip Daniels

DT96Cornelius Griffin

DT92Albert Haynesworth

DE99Andre Carter

OLB52Rocky McIntosh

MLB59London Fletcher

OLB98Brian Orakpo

CB27Fred Smoot

CB22Carlos Rogers

SS37Reed Doughty

FS30LaRon Landry

Specialists

K6Shaun Suisham

P3Hunter Smith

PR82Antwaan Randle El

KR11Devin Thomas

Injuries

Out: RB Clinton Portis (concussion). Doubtful: CB DeAngelo Hall (knee). Questionable: DT Albert Haynesworth (ankle), CB Justin Tryon (hip). Probable: RB Mike Sellers (ankle).

SAINTS

STARTERS

Offense

WR12Marques Colston

LT74Jermon Bushrod

LG77Carl Nicks

C76Jonathan Goodwin

RG73Jahri Evans

RT78Jonathan Stinchcomb

TE88Jeremy Shockey

WR19Devery Henderson

QB9Drew Brees

RB23Pierre Thomas

FB36Kyle Eckel

Defense

DE94Charles Grant

DT98Sedrick Ellis

DT92Remi Ayodele

DE91Will Smith

OLB58Scott Shanle

MLB51Jonathan Vilma

OLB55Scott Fujita

CB32Jabari Greer

CB22Tracy Porter

SS41Roman Harper

FS42Darren Sharper

Special teams

K3John Carney

P6Thomas Morstead

PR25Reggie Bush

KR15Courtney Roby

Injuries

Out: WR Lance Moore (ankle, hamstring), CB Tracy Porter (knee). Doubtful: T Jermon Bushrod (thumb), G Jahri Evans (toe), CB Randall Gay (hamstring), LB Marvin Mitchell (hamstring). Questionable: RB Reggie Bush (knee), CB Jabari Greer (groin), DE Bobby McCray (back, knee). Probable: RB Mike Bell (knee, back), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (wrist), LB Scott Fujita (knee), C Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), RB Lynell Hamilton (shoulder), CB Chris McAlister (knee), TE Jeremy Shockey (elbow), RB Pierre Thomas (wrist), LB Jonathan Vilma (knee).

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