After a comeback win in the final seconds in Week 8, the New Orleans Saints lost an overtime game in Week 9, and at 4-5, they are falling behind in the race for an NFC wildcard spot. They are coming very close to entering must-win territory.
The Redskins (3-5) couldn't get anything going against the undefeated New England Patriots in Week 9, but they are still only one-and-a-half games back in the NFC East. A big home victory over a Saints team that has already defeated the division leader, the New York Giants, would certainly send a message.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Saints and Redskins.
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1. Run the ball effectively
The best way to keep the pressure off of Drew Brees and to allow him to pick apart defenses is to run the ball effectively. Well, in the Week 9 loss to the Tennessee Titans, we saw the Saints struggle in a big way when it comes to the run game. Mark Ingram rushed 22 times for a total of 54 yards, while C.J. Spiller received just two carries for eight yards. Whether Spiller needs more touches, or the offensive line needs to open more holes, something needs to change against Washington.
2. Find a way to get to Kirk Cousins
It's obvious how much of a difference a pass rush can make for any NFL team, but when you look at New Orleans over the past few games, it's even more apparent. During their three-game win streak, New Orleans tallied 12 sacks. Their loss against the Titans? Exactly zero. If the Saints can't get to the quarterback it leaves their secondary far too vulnerable, which is exactly why this pass rush needs to be all-out on Sunday.
3. Get the ball into the hands of Brandin Cooks
While it seems as though Brandin Cooks has finally gotten into a groove, this is a great spot for Cooks to have another big outing. The Redskins have allowed 92 receptions for 1,314 yards and 11 scores to opposing wide receivers this year. This is great news for Cooks, who has scored four touchdowns over the past five games, while also topping 71 yards in four of those five games as well.
1. Be aggressive early and scrap the run-first approach
In the past two games, the Saints have allowed 721 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. In Week 9, the Saints didn't sack Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota at all. The Saints have just one pass rusher playing well -- Cameron Jordan -- and he will match up with Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses who has allowed just 15 total quarterback pressures in 2015. The Redskins continue to push forward with this idea that they want to be a run-first team, but sometimes it's more important to play into the matchups. In this specific matchup, the Redskins should come out firing through the air.
2. Use cornerback Bashaud Breeland to defend Brandin Cooks
Cooks has racked up 10 receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns over his past two games. Brees and Cooks have developed an excellent connection, and Wasington's best chance at stopping Cooks is matching Breeland up with him. Breeland played limited snaps in Week 9, coming off an injury, but he should be much healthier in Week 10. Although the Redskins spent a lot of money in free agency to have Chris Culliver be their premier cover cornerback, Breeland has done a much better job this season and he has earned the right to shadow Cooks.
3. Get tight end Jordan Reed going again
The Redskins are at their best when they get Reed involved early and often in the offense. Aside from a late touchdown in garbage time, Reed was nonexistent in the team's Week 9 loss. When he was targeted, he struggled with dropped passes (2) and an inability to separate from coverage underneath. The Saints have allowed monster weeks to tight ends Greg Olsen and most recently Delanie Walker. The Redskins need to do their best to make Reed the next tight end to join that list.