All the hue and cry among Redskins fans since Washington’s 16-7 season-opening loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 4 has been about the offense.
Fans have complained that new coach Jim Zorn, never before even a coordinator, didn’t prepare for the pressure and quarterback Jason Campbell is ill-suited for Zorn’s West Coast passing scheme.
The second half by coordinator Greg Blache‘s defense - zero points and 113 yards allowed - has been forgotten.
But Blache and Co. had a certain comfort level last week even in facing the defending Super Bowl champions on the road since they had throttled the New York Giants throughout most of their 2007 matchups.
The opponent in Sunday’s home opener, New Orleans, is a different matter. While the Giants bludgeon away with burly Brandon Jacobs and physical Plaxico Burress, the Saints are all about speed and quickness.
Few quarterbacks throw the ball as quickly and accurately as Drew Brees. Reggie Bush dazzles with his elusiveness in the open field. Receivers Devery Henderson and David Patten can fly. Throw in former Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey and the uncertain health of many of Blache’s back seven and the Redskins’ defense is facing a major challenge.
“This is as hard a task as I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Blache said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for [Saints coach] Sean Payton’s ability to use the weapons that he has, and he’s loaded with some weapons right now. We can’t afford to have a down snap because they have the weapons to beat you at any given time. They’re home-run hitters.”
The Saints’ three touchdowns in their opening 24-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were Brees’ passes of 39 yards to Patten, 46 to Bush and 84 to Henderson. Top receiver Marques Colston won’t play because of an ailing thumb, but the rest of New Orleans’ offense is in fine form.
That means the Redskins need everyone in the back seven including linebacker Marcus Washington, who’s a game-time decision with a tender hamstring, and cornerback Shawn Springs, who missed the Giants’ game with an ailing calf. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh and cornerback Carlos Rogers are coming off reconstructive knee surgeries. Third cornerback Fred Smoot, who is expected to play a bunch Sunday, missed the end of the New York game with a hip pointer and free safety LaRon Landry was out all preseason with a bad hamstring.
“They play three wides a lot and Reggie’s like another wideout so we’ll probably need four corners,” Rogers said. “If we stop him and stop their vertical [passing] game, keep them to a mid-range game, we’ll be fine.”
That was the case in December 2006 when Washington limited Bush to 33 total yards on 12 touches and upset the NFC South champions 16-10.
“We didn’t give up any big plays,” cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. “We kept a really good running back at bay, didn’t let him get loose in space. There were a lot of guys running at him at all times. And we didn’t let Drew get in a rhythm.”
Redskins defensive ends Andre Carter and Jason Taylor differed on whether getting pressure in the face of the 6-foot Brees could throw of the timing of the Saints’ passing game, but there’s no disputing how dangerous Bush and Shockey can be. Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, hasn’t been consistently as effective as he was at Southern Cal, but Blache still compared him to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
“Even if we were 100 percent healthy, Reggie Bush presents a problem,” Blache said. “He’s better than anybody else in the league right now in a one-on-one situation. We’re going to have to gang-tackle him. This guy’s a game-breaker, one of the most exciting players I’ve seen in my 20 years in the league. He creates a mismatch with anybody when you put him in space.”
Campbell and the offense need to play much better than they did at Giants Stadium, but the Redskins won’t improve to 1-1 today without a big-time performance from their defense.
“We know we can beat these guys,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “We did it two years ago. We’ve just got to play well from the start and I think we will.”