The New Orleans Saints and Washington meet in a key clash between two 2020 playoff teams. Both squads come into the game with 2-2 records.
For the Saints, it will be their fourth road game in five weeks. They're coming off an overtime loss to the New York Giants in their only game inside the Superdome this year.
New Orleans has been known for its prolific offense since 2006 with QB Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. It’s been the defense that has been an equal part of the team’s success, especially through the early parts of this season.
The Saints rank 11th in total defense after four games, allowing an average of 349 yards per game. Those rankings would be higher if not for a defensive collapse against the Giants last week. The 485 total yards against them was the most they'd allowed in the last 26 games and just the third time an opponent had over 400 yards in that span.
New Orleans remains one of the league's toughest teams to run the ball against, a moniker they've held for the last four seasons. The Saints have maintained defensive success even with injury absences of DE Marcus Davenport and LB Kwon Alexander and a suspension to DT David Onyemata.
Washington hosts the Saints armed with the NFL's 20th ranked offense. They average 342 yards per game but are scoring 25.3 points per contest. Washington has maintained offensive balance despite an injury to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick that’s kept him out for the last three games.
Fitzpatrick will remain sidelined this week. QB Taylor Heinicke has played well, but his team must be balanced to keep the pressure off their passing game.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE VS. WASHINGTON RUSHING ATTACK
New Orleans Run Defense
The Saints have allowed an average of 66 yards/game on the ground and 3.1 per carry, ranking second in the league. They've allowed only two backs to rush for over 100 yards against them over the last 65 games and routinely eliminate an opponent's running game to make them one-dimensional.
New Orleans LB Demario Davis is the defensive leader and one of the NFL's best all-around defensive players. Davis leads the team in tackles, a title he’s held for the previous three years. He's a smart and athletic sideline-to-sideline defender who explodes into opposing backfields to blow up running plays.
Without Alexander, the Saints shuffle a trio of promising young linebackers around Davis. Rookie second-round pick Pete Werner is better in coverage, while second-year LB Zack Baun is a playmaker near the line of scrimmage who struggles in space. Third-year LB Kaden Elliss is coming into his own as a run defender and plays with downhill aggression.
New Orleans has a deep and physical defensive line that not only ties up blockers but disrupts running plays from their inception.
Ends Cam Jordan, rookie first-round choice Payton Turner, and Tanoh Kpassagnon crash inside from the edge. Kpassagnon can also play inside, but tackles Shy Tuttle, Malcolm Roach, and Christian Ringo have performed well in the absence of Onyemata.
The Saints' defensive backs play a vital role in run support. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby, and rookie Paulson Adebo are strong tacklers in open space. P.J. Williams might be the team's best tackler in the secondary, and Marcus Williams flies up from his free safety spot to make plays.
Coordinator Dennis Allen uses SS Malcolm Jenkins and star defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson like extra linebackers, giving the team versatility in their personnel packages. Gardner-Johnson and Jenkins give the unit more athleticism around the line of scrimmage without sacrificing their effectiveness against the run.
Washington Running Game
Washington has averaged 103 yards rushing through the first four games, ranking 19th in the league. Second-year RB Antonio Gibson leads the team with 253 yards rushing and is averaging 4.3/carry, but is questionable for this game with a shin injury.
Gibson is an underrated back who picks up tough yards between the tackles but also has the speed to make big plays in the open field. If he is limited or can't go, Washington will turn to veteran RB J.D. McKissic, who normally comes in on third-down situations.
McKissic has 56 yards rushing so far this season and has 12 receptions for 142 yards. He doesn't have Gibson's size but is difficult to track down in open space. Undrafted rookie RB Jaret Patterson will also see more action if Gibson can't be the workhorse.
Washington's receiving corps is banged up, placing more importance on the ground game. They'll also be without their best offensive lineman, four-time Pro Bowl RG Brandon Scherff. Rookie RT Sam Cosmi has played well, but Washington usually attacks over their left side behind LG Ereck Flowers and LT Charles Leno Jr.
What To Watch
The Saints have held 40 of their last 57 opponents under 100 yards rushing over the last four seasons. That trend will have to continue if they are able to rebound from a poor defensive performance against the Giants.
New Orleans struggled against New York's passing game, but also allowed the Giants to have a balanced attack. The Saints must also be wary of Washington QB Taylor Heinicke and his ability to run. They lost containment on Giants QB Daniel Jones in some key moments last week.
If healthy, Antonio Gibson is a back capable of making plays to turn a game. Washington will miss Scherff but have two capable run blockers in Flowers and Leno on the left side.
The Saints need to stalemate Washington blocking at the point of attack, allowing Demario Davis and the other defenders to eliminate the threat of the rushing game.