Fresh off playing their most complete game of the season, the New Orleans Saints (3-1) will need another on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome if they hope to enter their bye week with four straight victories. And this year’s Washington team doesn’t much resemble last year’s, from the change to quarterback Alex Smith, to the much stingier defense. But what the Saints already have shown this season is that they’re capable of winning a variety of ways and with Drew Brees on the cusp of setting another NFL record, expect them to be focused during the nationally-televised game.
- We begin with Brees because, well, where else is there to begin? He’s 201 passing yards short of setting an NFL record, and the setting is perfect – home game, nationally televised, team on a winning streak. Washington, obviously, hopes to have a say in the matter. The Redskins allowed 187 passing yards per game in the first three, posted seven sacks and intercepted three passes while holding opposing quarterbacks to 61.8-percent completions. Those are outstanding numbers in the NFL. Still, Brees is the man of the hour (or, more likely, 3.5 hours) on Monday night. There aren’t many times in which he hasn’t risen to the occasion in his career, so it’s fair to assume he’ll meet the moment this time, too.
- Fact: Alvin Kamara arguably was the best player in the NFL over the first four games. The second-year running back has been an opposing defense’s worst nightmare – 56 carries for 275 yards and five touchdowns, 35 catches for 336 yards and a touchdown, and leading the league in swag. Also fact: His workload has to decrease. He averaged 12.6 touches per game last year, including 13.8 in the last 12 games, when his usage increased. But this season he’s at 22.8 touches per game, and whereas last year his high was 19 touches, he already has had games of 19, 31 and 24 touches on offense. That’s why having Mark Ingram back is so important. Ingram isn’t just fresh-legged coming off his four-game suspension, he also is a Pro Bowl performer in the Saints’ offense who helps allow Kamara to stay fresh. Yes, his teammates were happy to see him return for all the things he helps provide off the field and in the locker room. But Ingram also is a very good football player, and the Saints love that part, too.
- New Orleans has three sacks in each of the last three games. But Washington’s Alex Smith is crafty and mobile. He won’t be easy to sack, but that doesn’t mean the Saints can’t affect him with the rush. Rush-lane discipline will be big, and Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen isn’t shy about blitzing (linebacker Demario Davis had two sacks against the Giants and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week). New Orleans needs to speed up Smith’s mental clock.
- There’s no downplaying Adrian Peterson’s revival with Washington. He wasn’t a good fit at running back for the Saints, but the future Hall of Famer has been essential for Washington, leading the team in carries (56), yards (236), and rushing and total touchdowns (three). Washington, in fact, averages 138 rushing yards per game (fifth in the league) on 33 carries. The Saints appear to welcome the challenge. New Orleans allows 79.5 rushing yards per game (third-fewest) and 3.2 yards per attempt. Washington likely can’t control the clock unless it can control the line of scrimmage, and the Saints progressively have gotten better at that this season.
- You can’t say the Saints haven’t tried to find an effective punt returner. You also can’t say that they have managed to find one. Already this season, Tommylee Lewis, Kamara, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Tate have fielded punts. Austin Carr gets work there in practice, and practice squad running back Boston Scott may turn out to be a candidate. The best of the lot probably is Kamara, but his importance to the offense and high snap count hindered his candidacy in the first four games. With Ingram back, that slices some offensive touches for Kamara and maybe – maybe – reopens his use as a punt returner. Absent that, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s a situation that continues to bear watching.