Washington defense keeps Saints in check
We wanted to play first and second down with our base defense and stop the run.” Jim Haslett, Redskins defensive coordinator
NEW ORLEANS — As the victors walked off the field Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, jubilant fans of the Washington Redskins chanted the praises of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“RG3 ... RG3 ... RG3.’’
“None of y’all gave us a chance,’’ middle linebacker London Fletcher crowed to a group of reporters moments after the Redskins stunned the New Orleans Saints 40-32 in the regular-season opener for both teams.
“None of y’all.’’
“Who Dat say gonna beat dem Redskins?’’ mocked Redskins’ right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
On this day, the vast majority of the sellout crowd of 72,180 probably felt the Saints would handle the Redskins because of what seemed to be an overwhelming home-field advantage some 10 days after Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc on the metro area.
That, and the inspirational presence of Saints defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, both of whom had their suspensions lifted Friday for their roles in the bounty scandal. Smith played Sunday against the Redskins. Vilma did not play because of a lingering knee injury.
In the end, it was a resilient Redskins defense, spearheaded by former Saints coach Jim Haslett, that made life miserable for quarterback Drew Brees, reminiscent of a game five years ago when Haslett, as defensive coordinator, brought his 0-8 St. Louis Rams into the Superdome and walked away with a 37-29 victory.
On Sunday, Brees completed less than 50 percent of his passes (24 of 52), was sacked twice and threw two interceptions for a 70.9 passer rating. In Week 10 of the 2007 season, Brees passed for 272 yards, threw two picks and was sacked twice.
Brees finished with 339 yards passing, 164 coming in the final 7:23 when the Saints tried desperately to rally from 30-17 deficit.
“Our players and our coaches did a great job of studying film and understanding when they were going to go vertical, when they were going to go up the seam and when they were going to run the ball,’’ Haslett said. “But stopping it is another thing.’’
The Saints managed just 32 rushing yards on 10 attempts, 100.9 yards below their 2011 average, en route to winning the NFC South with a 13-3 record.
“We wanted to play first and second down with our base defense and stop the run,” Haslett said. “People forget that they averaged nearly 135 yards rushing last year. They got a good running game.’’
Haslett said the Redskins seldom blitzed and played primarily man coverage against tight end Jimmy Graham, scatback Darren Sproles and the plethora of offensive weapons at Brees’ disposal.
“We did not play one snap of zone coverage the whole day,’’ Haslett said. “That was our No. 1 deal: stop the run, get some sacks and some turnovers and play a lot of tight coverage. We mixed the blitz in, but the rest of it was just coverage.
“We kind of rolled the dice a bit.’’
In addition, the Redskins were able to handle Brees without the presence of starting safeties Tanard Jackson (suspended indefinitely) and Brandon Meriweather (injured).
“We saw (on numerous game tapes) what things flustered Brees, and then we just caused mass destruction for him,’’ Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “We knew we had to keep coming with the (pass rush). Sometimes he’d get some good looks, but we had to keep coming play after play, series after series. We had to force him into making mistakes, and that’s what we did.’’
In addition, Brees did not complete a pass in three of the Saints first four possessions, five overall.
“This is a great atmosphere for them,’’ Haslett said. “We wanted to start fast because they play with great tempo. We stayed with our base defense, and we never got in the huddle. We got lined up and played three snaps man to man right off the bat.
“We were trying to let them know that they were not going to outpace us. We didn’t want to huddle up, then have to turn around and worry about what personnel they came out in. We rolled the dice a little bit, but you have to take chances against a great offense like they have.’’
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan took it one step further.
“To beat a team like that at home, in this atmosphere,’’ Shanahan said. “They may be the best team (at home) in the history of pro football.’’
On Sunday, the Saints did not play like it.