Let us get this out of the way early; this is not a typical New Orleans Saints team of the recent past, they are elite. Head coach Sean Payton and veteran quaterback Drew Brees lead a squad that has both fans and media thinking this team can reach the Super Bowl. They are that good. What makes them stand out is not just Brees’ play, but it is their sensational defense, who are playing incredibly well compared to their historically bad units of years past. Including 2017, there are only three seasons in the Payton and Brees era in which their offense was complemented with a defense that was top ten in both yards and points allowed.
The Saints have had no problem rushing the quarterback this year, ranking tenth in the league in sacks with 25, tenth in sack percentage with 7.76 percent, and 12th in sacks per game with 2.8. For the Redskins to win on the road in another loud and rowdy environment, they will have to play turnover-free football and stay committed to the ground game. The Redskins have lost Robert Kelley for the remainder of the season, meaning that Chris Thomspon and the up-and-down rookie Samaje Perine will need to elevate their play even more. Yes, Thompson is already playing at a very high level, but there is no doubt that coaches will look to him and Perine to lessen the pressure on Kirk Cousins shoulders.
In addition to the Saints’ strong defense, New Orleans has elevated and cultivated a dangerous rushing attack, similar to the unit they featured during their 2009 Super Bowl run. The 2017 Saints boast the third-best rushing attack in the NFL.
Due in large part to running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who are currently averaging 4.7 and 6.5 yards per carry respectively, the pressure for a 38-year-old Drew Brees to throw the Saints to a victory weekly dramatically diminished. Kamara, still just a rookie, fits the mold of the dual-threat back that the Saints offense needs for their system, and fills the role of former Saint Darren Sproles. Kamara’s 43 receptions and nearly 800 yards from scrimmage this season have shown he is the man to fit the mold. Seven years into his career, former first-round pick Mark Ingram has finally developed into the primary back the Saints hoped he would be over the past couple of years and established a real ground threat in New Orleans.
The Saints come into this match-up with the 16th best defense in rushing yards per game, but 30th ranked defense in rushing yards per attempt. It is a matter of limiting mistakes, and not falling out of the game early. Most teams have abandoned the run against New Orleans, creating pass-rushing opportunities for their front-seven. For the Redskins, moments for the big play will be presented to them offensively, and if they are balanced efficiently it will be imperative that they capitalize on what will be a season-saving game.
The test will be tough this weekend, but do you think the Redskins have what it takes to knock off the upstart Saints? Have at it in the comments below.