Every season I look into the opposition to give you guys some insight into what I see from the Saints’ weekly opponent. This week it’s the Washington Redskins coming to the Superdome and they will ceremoniously baptize RGIII into action with his first start as a pro. The Redskins finished 5-11 last year and were much worse than their record, honestly. Traditionally pretty tough on defense, the Redskins aged a bit last year and their quarterback carousel between Rex Grossman and John Beck was an utter disaster. The luxury of being so bad comes with a high draft pick, though, and the Redskins were able to use that pick to go even higher in the draft to help them land their quarterback of the future in RGIII. I consider the Saints a heavy favorite in this game, but we know all too well what happens when we assume victories (Browns/Cards in 2010, Rams in 2011). They play the game for a reason and the Saints will need to be ready. Still, opening against the Redskins at home is a pretty generous start the 2012 campaign.
On offense the Skins’ start RGIII, no surprises there, but no one is really sure how he will handle his first real live action.
He’s obviously a massive threat getting out of the pocket with scary escapability, and he arguably throws a more accurate ball than Michael Vick. There are some similarities in how those two play, though Griffin is right handed, but I’d venture to say that Griffin is a more polished passer than Vick was at that point in his career. There’s also no question Griffin is more serious, committed and high character than Vick was. Obviously the sky is the limit for him and he’ll enter year one immediately as a dangerous playmaker. Still, you have to assume some turnovers/mistakes could come as a result of how green he is. The Redskins turned some heads by releasing Tim Hightower (seriously injured last year) and long time fan favorite Chris Cooley during final cuts and they’ll roll into this game with some very unproven runners in Evan Royster, Roy Helu and rookie Alfred Morris. Both Royster and Helu looked solid last year, though, and Morris looked great in preseason. The Redskins when they pass are likely relying almost exclusively on newly signed budding star Pierre Garcon to make plays on the perimeter and tight end Fred Davis to make plays underneath. Beyond them, the Skins also have Josh Morgan who hasn’t exactly flourished in four years in the NFL and Santana Moss who is reliable but aging by the second. RGIII is indeed surrounded by mostly no names, so building talent around him is still a work in process. As for the o-line, the Skins are currently without former Saint right tackle Jammal Brown which is a hit to their lineup. Replacing him at right tackle is Tyler Polumbus who was largely a disaster last season and a player Cam Jordan should be able to expose routinely regardless of the situation. Left tackle Trent Williams is by far and away the best player on their line which is very mediocre overall, and is rounded out by a decent Kory Lichtensteiger, a mediocre Will Montgomery and a poor right guard in Chris Chester. The real weakness of this Skins’ offense, to me, is the right side of their line, particularly without Jammal Brown available and I think this is what the Saints have to exploit. Anytime they blitz, this is the side they must overload to because there promises to be lapses in pickups.
The Skins finished just ahead of middle of the pack at 13th overall last season, but I began to notice some chinks in the armor as the season progressed. London Fletcher seems ageless and is still positively oustanding in run support, but word is he’s getting a little more banged up in recent times. You kind of have to wonder how much longer his body can really hold up at 37. The Skins’ linebackers are by far their scariest asset as Fletcher teams up with former LSU great Perry Riley to plug up the interior, and Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan come off the edge to put serious pressure on the passers. They play a 3-4 base almost exclusively and the defensive line is nothing to write home about. With this team, it’s all about the linebackers. DeAngelo Hall isn’t what he used to be, and while he still has nice ball skills, he’s a player Drew Brees can attack. The safeties, Madieu Williams and Brandon Merriweather, are both in their first year with the Redskins and serviceable veterans but nothing special. Ditto the corner opposite Hall in Josh Wilson. The Saints can expose this defense in a number of ways, but dealing with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo off the edge is the biggest concern. Neutralizing them by keeping them honest with short passes and running the ball well comes at a premium. Granted, that’s easier said than done with Riley and Fletcher roaming the middle. If Brees has time, he will torch this secondary, so pass protection is extremely important in this game. I think Pierre Thomas is more valuable in a game like this because he can help the passing game with his impeccable protection help and be used as a safety valve as well. I also don’t think these Skins backers can run with Darren Sproles, so isolating Sproles one on one with their interior linebackers is a nightmare matchup for the Redskins. I could see Devery Henderson or Lance Moore getting a big vertical play in this game, too, due to the Redskins’ weakness over the top.
The Redskins have a very dangerous return man in Brandon Banks who reminds me a little bit of Trindon Holliday. Elite explosive speed, very slight of size (Banks weighs ~150lbs soaking wet), and while he’s a legitimate threat every single time he touches the ball, he’s also very poor at ball security. So yeah, he’s a carbon copy of Holliday. Fortunately for the Saints they have Thomas Morstead to keep him in check, but he’ll need to be extra careful because this guy is a burner. At kicker the Redskins have Billy Cundiff, who you might remember was a Saint for about a day as a kickoff specialist during the John Carney era. He’s managed to stay around the NFL for a long time despite never being that great, making only 66% of his career kicks. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to not see him last the year with them, this being his first year with the team. Sav Rocca, the punter, is regarded as average. I view the Redskins as severely inferior to the Saints in this phase of the game, but I think it’s imperative the Saints keep Banks in check because all it takes is one big play from him and it could change the complexion of the game.