A superstar receiver, a running back who can do it all and a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. The Redskins defense will have that and more to worry about when they play New Orleans on Monday night.
The Saints offense, once again, is putting up points in a hurry on the rest of the league. Drew Brees is having another Pro-Bowl year, but he’s not doing it by himself. The Saints leading receiver, Michael Thomas, just so happens to also be the NFL’s leading receiver with 42 receptions through four games. Their second-year running back Alvin Kamara is sitting at third in the league in receptions with 35. Oh, and he has the most rushing touchdowns in the league and is top-10 in rushing yardage.
The Saints offense is an embarrassment of riches, and Brees has been feeding them the ball. Head coach Jay Gruden told reporters Monday their margin of error against a quarterback like that is very thin.
“He'll find a mistake and make you pay, so we've got to try to give him as little mistakes as possible and continue to get the pass rush on every down, and know where [Alvin] Kamara is, know where [Michael] Thomas is and go from there,” Gruden said.
For the Redskins defense, getting into the correct play is just the first step. Safety Montae Nicholson knows the real test comes after the snap.
“The preparation needed, we’re into right now,” Nicholson said. “I think we’ve got a good game plan, as long as we execute I think things should go our way. Obviously they’re going to make plays, it’s the NFL. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be here. It’s just who is going to stay more technique-sound, more detail-oriented, and who’s going to make those crucial plays when it comes down to it.”
Execution isn’t just following the game plan, it’s also making the plays. Kamara is fourth in the league in broken tackles according to Football Outsiders, and Thomas is tied for fifth among wide receivers. Having players who can break the game plan like that puts even more emphasis on playing sound football, something Nicholson also put an emphasis on.
“Really, they’re going to make plays, and we have to make more plays than them and get them on the ground when it comes down to it,” he said. “They’re an explosive team for those who haven’t seen, really we’ve got to start with respecting them. If we don’t respect them it will be a long night, but really stay technically sound and detail-oriented and we’ll be straight.”
Part of respecting the Saints offense is having a detailed game plan that can account for the variety of formations and personnel groupings New Orleans likes to run. They’ll have even more flexibility now that former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram is back on the active roster after serving a four-game suspension.
Having two talented running backs allows the Saints to run a number of formations with the same personnel, forcing the defense to play their hand first and then either putting a running back out wide or in the slot, or giving a two-back look.
“He gets on his tip toes and he sees the field extremely well,” Gruden told reporters Wednesday. “He knows where the weaknesses are at every coverage and he can attack you. It's very important for us to disguise our intent and try to get after him as best we can. If he has time to see the field and read what your intent is on defense, he'll find an open guy. He's done it his whole career. I think that's what he's best at. He gets in unique formations, shows your hand and he gets into the right play.”
The Redskins defense has been solid this season, allowing only 14.7 points-per-game (second-fewest in the league). Something will have to give with the Saints scoring 34.3 points per game, good for third-most.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky acknowledged how tough the Saints are to defend, and stressed how important it will be for the defense to be in-sync.
"Well I think the biggest thing is communication. As long as we are on the same page and we communicate and play the same coverage, we will be fine,” Manusky said. “From our standpoint, we do have a couple of young guys in the back end, but from our standpoint, hey it's the players we have out there and we are excited to see them perform at a high fashion so we'll be ready for Monday night."