NFL Preview - Washington (0-0) at New Orleans (0-0)|
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Suspensions, schmuspensions.
Though their general manager, head coach, highest-profile linebacker and
signature defensive lineman will miss some or all of the 2012 season thanks to
an hit-for-hire scheme, the New Orleans Saints are still swaggering.
And when asked if those absences will have an impact, they're defiant, too.
"Tell me the difference that you see in the way we run things, the way
[quarterback] Drew Brees drops back to pass, the plays that we run, the
hustle, the tempo on the field," said interim head coach Aaron Kromer, who'll
fill in for Sean Payton's intended replacement -- assistant Joe Vitt -- while
the latter serves a penalty of his own when the Saints host the Washington
Redskins in Sunday's regular-season opener.
"There isn't a difference because we're following what Sean Payton has taught
us. It is his program. It is the way he has done it. We've had a lot of
success doing it his way. We think it is important that we continue to do
Under Payton, who's banned for the entire 2012 campaign for failing to put a
stop to the Saints' bounty program overseen by former defensive coordinator
Gregg Williams, the Saints have had four playoff trips in six seasons --
including a memorable post-Katrina Super Bowl run in 2009 and 13 more regular-
season wins plus a playoff triumph last year, before a 36-32 defeat in the
final seconds at San Francisco during the Divisional Round of the NFC
"We've established a culture here that everyone has bought into, and when
you've established a culture, no matter who's at the top of it, it's always
the same," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "The Saints organization is not about
Sean Payton. It's not about (general manager) Mickey Loomis. It's not about
Joe Vitt or a certain person. The New Orleans Saints have a culture in what we
"The pressure is on us, at least internally, to have this be a huge year. I
think everyone knows the importance of it and how huge of a deal that would be
for us to get that Super Bowl."
Brees returns after one of the most prolific seasons in league history, during
which he established new NFL marks with 5,476 passing yards and a 71.2
completion percentage along with a career-best 46 touchdown throws.
A sometimes-messy offseason contract situation was finally ironed out in July,
when Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal.
"I am excited about our team. I am excited about our opportunity," Brees said.
"It's really the focus of one week at a time just trying to get a little bit
better each time you step on the field. I couldn't be more excited about where
we are at and where we are headed."
A similar sentiment can be felt around Redskin Park.
Washington presumably solidified its quarterback situation for the next
several seasons with it moved up prior to April's draft - dealing the No. 6
pick, two future first-rounders and a second-rounder to St. Louis - for a shot
to make Baylor's Robert Griffin III the second overall pick behind Stanford
passer Andrew Luck.
The Redskins have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, during which
they've gone a combined 23-41.
To aid their new passer, the Redskins signed free agent wide receiver Pierre
Garcon to a five-year, $42.5 million deal and also grabbed fellow wideout Josh
Morgan from San Francisco. Tight end Fred Davis, who had 59 receptions and 796
yards in 12 games last season, also steps up in status after the release of
veteran Chris Cooley.
"He's still a young kid. He still has a lot to learn," Redskins cornerback
DeAngelo Hall said of Griffin. "We still have a lot of weapons we need to put
around him, too, but we feel like we have adequate guys around him, a lot of
playmakers to where we can definitely make that transition a little bit easier
While the passing options for Griffin seem clear, running back is a little
more muddled. Rookie Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick out of Florida
Atlantic, is in the mix along with second-year men Evan Royster and Roy Helu,
who combined for 968 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"Last time I checked, they still have us fourth in the NFC East," Griffin
said. "And not that we care, but we're going to go out and try to make sure
that we're not."
Redskins lead 15-8
Last Meeting: Saints 33, Redskins 30 (Dec. 6, 2009 at Washington)
Last Meeting at Site: Redskins 16, Saints 10 (Dec. 17, 2006)
Redskins HC Mike Shanahan vs. Saints: 3-1
Saints HC Aaron Kromer vs. Redskins: 0-0
Shanahan vs. Kromer Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Redskins have left with a victory in each of their last three stops at
the Superdome, recording wins in 1994 (38-21), 2001 (40-10) and 2006 (16-10),
and the visiting team has come out on top in six of the seven most recent
matchups in the series. Shanahan went 3-0 against New Orleans during a 14-year
stint as the Denver Broncos' head coach from 1995-2008, with his lone career
defeat to the Saints taking place while in charge of the Los Angeles Raiders
BY THE NUMBERS
2011 Offensive Team Rankings
Washington: 16th overall (336.7 ypg), 25th rushing (100.9 ypg), 14th passing
(235.8 ypg), 19th scoring (21.3 ppg)
New Orleans: 1st overall (467.1 ypg), 6th rushing (132.9 ypg), 1st passing
(334.2 ypg), 2nd scoring (34.2 ppg)
2011 Defensive Team Rankings
Washington: 13th overall (339.8 ypg), 18th rushing (117.8 ypg), 12th passing
(222.1 ypg), 21st scoring (22.9 ppg)
New Orleans: 24th overall (368.4 ypg), 12th rushing (108.6 ypg), 30th passing
(259.8 ypg), 13th scoring (21.2 ppg)
2011 Turnover Margin
Washington: -14 (21 takeaways, 35 giveaways)
New Orleans: -3 (16 takeaways, 19 giveaways)
2011 Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Washington: 41.2 percent (51 possessions, 21 TD, 18 FG) -- 29th overall
New Orleans: 58.7 percent (75 possessions, 44 TD, 20 FG) -- 6th overall
2011 Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Washington: 43.9 percent (57 possessions, 25 TD, 21 FG) -- 5th overall
New Orleans: 59.0 percent (39 possessions, 23 TD, 12 FG) -- 28th overall
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Griffin, and good luck against a New Orleans defense
that was no better than middle of the pack last season even with standout
linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who'll sit out this entire year for his role in the
bounty scandal. Griffin will look downfield to newcomer Morgan (15 receptions,
1 TD in 2011), who saw his final season in San Francisco cut short with a
broken leg in Week 5 before heading East in the offseason. On the other side
is ex-Colt Garcon, who headed over from Indianapolis after catching 70 balls
for 947 yards and six touchdowns in a lost season without Peyton Manning. Also
in the fold is veteran speedster Santana Moss, who begins his 12th NFL season
after catching 46 passes for 584 yards and scoring four times in 2011. An 858-
yard season would get Moss to 10,000 receiving yards for his career. Lining up
behind the shifty Griffin will be a smorgasbord of runners, including the
rookie Morris and sophomores Helu (640 rushing yards, 49 receptions, 3 total
TD) and Royster (328 rushing yards, 10 receptions).
The Saints defense is missing some personnel, including Vilma and end Will
Smith, who's also suspended. New Orleans is expected to play more zone
coverage to limit big plays and perhaps confuse the young Griffin. Up front,
tackle Brodrick Bunkley was signed from Denver and brings his 43 tackles with
him. Middle man Curtis Lofton arrived from Atlanta after making 147 tackles
last season and should fill in for Vilma. In the backfield, it's corners
Jabari Greer (72 tackles, 1 interception) and 2010 first-rounder Patrick
Robinson (47 tackles, 4 interceptions) who lead the way.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Sure, Payton won't be wearing the headset, but the names and numbers who've
helped him to the upper echelon of the league's coaches are still there in
full force. Brees (5476 passing yards, 46 TD, 14 INT) was the best in the
business statistically last season, eclipsing NFL records for passing yards
and yardage per game while also approaching Johnny Unitas' long-standing
record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. His pass-catching
playmates include re-signed No. 1 receiver Marques Colston (80 receptions,
1143 yards, 8 TD), as well as 52-catch man Lance Moore (8 TD), dynamic running
back/receiver Darren Sproles (86 receptions, 7 TD) and ridiculously productive
tight end Jimmy Graham (99 catches, 1310 yards, 11 TD). Sproles ran for 603
yards on the ground and will get some help from former first-rounder Mark
Ingram, who ran for 474 yards and scored five times as a rookie last year.
Pierre Thomas is yet another backfield option after going for 562 yards on the
ground and catching 50 balls in 2011.
Defensively, the Redskins are strong up front in their 3-4 alignment that
includes nose tackle Barry Cofield (25 tackles, 3 sacks), end Adam Carriker
(34 tackles, 5.5 sacks), inside linebacker London Fletcher (166 tackles, 1.5
sacks, 2 INT) and edge rusher Brian Orakpo (59 tackles, 9 sacks), but the
backfield of Hall (90 tackles, 3 INT), cornerback Josh Wilson (62 tackles, 2
INT) and safeties Reed Doughty (88 tackles) and Madieu Williams will get a
With Griffin, the Redskins will be one of the league's most exciting teams,
but they face a daunting opening-week challenge on the road on a fast track
and against one of the league's most prolific offenses. Brees is rarely at a
loss for options with the Saints' varied personnel and should probably find
something available in most situations. The Redskins would be well-advised to
try and limit New Orleans' touches on offense, but it's hard to imagine a
scenario where they win a shootout.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 34, Redskins 20
09/06 12:18:02 ET