Collectively, not many NFL teams have been better against the run this season than the New Orleans Saints, who allowed the fewest yards per carry (3.2) and third-fewest yards per game (79.5) and the second-fewest rushing first downs (13) through the first four games.
The run defense for the Saints, 3-1 and winners of three straight, figures to be put to the test by Washington on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
As good as the Saints have been at stopping the run, Washington (2-1) equally has been formidable at opening running lanes. Washington runs for 137.7 yards per game, fifth-best in the league, and leads the league with 33 rushing attempts per game.
Partly, that explains Washington’s ability to control the clock (33:31 time of possession, second-best in the league). And it helps explain the Saints’ need to keep Washington’s run game under control in the nationally-televised game.
“The run numbers have been good (defensively for the Saints),” Coach Sean Payton said. “I think there’s an element, you hear me talk about complementary football and time of possession and those things, but we’ve played some good run teams.
“This will be a challenge. This will be one of the better running teams we’ve played, both with what they do and how they do it. Preparing for the ‘gun’ runs, preparing for some of the ‘G’ schemes that we’re going to see that they do so well, are important to us.”
One of the things Washington has done particularly well, is create space for running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson proved to be an ill fit for the Saints in four games last season (27 carries, 81 yards).
The 12-year veteran, and future Hall of Famer, has found Washington’s offense more suited to his abilities. He signed in August after Derrius Guice (torn ACL) was lost for the season, and leads Washington in rushing attempts (56), yards (236) and touchdowns (three).
The Saints have a good idea what Washington, and Peterson, can do and want to do.
New Orleans also has a good idea what it can, and wants, to do to keep Washington under control.
“We just keep doing what we’re doing: Play sound technique and fundamentals, everybody doing their job, and being physical,” defensive tackle Tyeler Davison said. “And lastly, swarming to the ball, everybody running to the ball. We just keep doing what we’re doing. We know how to do it, it’s just a matter of doing it consistently, showing up every game and doing it.
“A.P., he runs hard. He’s always done that throughout his career, and there’s nothing different now. A.P.’s running hard and they also offer a big menu of run plays, different types of runs. They’ve got gap-scheme runs, they’ve got zone runs. They’ve got a different type of running scheme out of the gun and out of the back at home, with the quarterback under center. They mix it up, they have a lot of variety, they try to be nasty up front. And last of all, A.P. – he’s a special player, he still is today. He’s showing that.”