Reporting Grant Paulsen
ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — When the Redskins play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Washington’s defense may face the best offense it will see all season.
What’s worse for the Redskins? They’ll be trying to slow down Drew Brees, who threw for an NFL record 5,476 passing yards last season, without the services of safeties Tanard Jackson (indefinite suspension) and Brandon Meriweather (knee sprain).
“We’re not concerned,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “We’ve got good players on the back-end. The guys that are playing.. they’ll fill in and do a good job.”
Washington’s defense finished the 2011 season ranked No. 13, particularly impressive when you consider that the Redskins ranked a dismal No. 31 in 2010.
Despite the fact that the group has come a long way and now possesses the pieces in place to play at a top-10 level, Sunday’s matchup doesn’t look favorable.
No team moved the ball with more ease than the Saints last season. New Orleans compiled a league best 467 yards per game while also leading the league in passing offense with an average of 334 yards.
Contrarily, the Redskins’ secondary yielded 58 completions that netted at least 20 yards, the fifth-highest total a year ago.
“They played last year and they did a nice job for us,” Haslett said of his reserve safeties — DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty — who will now be playing elevated roles. “They’re more experienced this year. It’s the guys we’ve got, I know they’ll do a nice job. I think we have a good plan.”
Washington’s best chance at slowing the Saints down resides up front, where the Redskins have built a stout front-seven. The club’s 41 sacks were a top-10 total in the NFL a season ago, and getting off to a nice start in the sack-column might be the only way Washington’s defense consistently gets off the field.
“We’ve got some guys banged up in the secondary,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “That means everybody else has to step up their game. Especially up front. We want to have that extra pressure. We need that extra pressure. We don’t want them getting any ideas of who to take advantage of, stuff like that.”
But Orakpo doesn’t think it’s fair to assume the secondary will struggle this weekend.
“I feel like we have a great group regardless of who’s out there,” the Texas-product said. “We’re a team. We don’t put any blame on which part of the defense is the strength or the weakness. We pride ourselves on everybody being a whole.”
Defensive captain London Fletcher knows that his unit, which he’s said this offseason could end up ranking in the top five in total defense, is about to face a special offense.
“We’re not tippy-toeing into this thing starting off with the Saints offsense,” Fletcher said. “In order to be the best you want to face the best and they are the best. It’s a huge challenge. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”