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The Washington Redskins open the NFL season against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday. The Saints are a special opponent for two reasons. First, the Redskins and Saints share a connection with Gregg Williams, and second, Roger Goodell has touched both teams. Reason No. 2 makes the Saints beatable, IMO, but that may be the homer coming out of me.
I went to Andrew Juge, my Bloguin colleague who covers the Saints on The Saints Nation Blog for answers. Andrew shared great insight on the Saints. The Q&A is lengthy. Here's the executive summary of his comments:
- Bounty or not, the Saints win with offense. Sanctioned players, including Jonathan Vilma, will not be missed.
- Gregg Williams still infuses the soul of the defense, in a good way. Juge's impressions of Williams recalled my memories of his days in Washington.
- Steve Spagnuolo is making a positive impression.
- The Redskins must make the most of turnover opportunities to beat the Drew Brees.
We answered Redskins questions for the Saints Nation Blog. We'll publish the link when the story is published. Here's my Q&A with the Saints Nation Blog. Enjoy.
1. I'm calling this game the "I Hate Roger" Bowl. No two teams have been as severely impacted by league sanctions as the Saints and Redskins. How do Saints fans see Bountygate hurting the team on the field?
I know Saints fans would gladly jump on an opportunity to rip good ol' Rog as well. I'm honestly speaking for everyone when I say we're really not sure what to expect. Not having Sean Payton won't be as bad at first, but it could make an impact later in the season as the team faces adversity. The system is already very mature and well in place, though, so not having him for a year isn't the end of the world. Not having Vilma is a non-event because he was playing on one leg last year and the Saints got a massive upgrade in Curtis Lofton (over a one legged Vilma anyway). No Will Smith for 4 weeks hurts, but let's be honest about one thing here: the Saints were the greatest offense in NFL history last year. That's right, better than the greatest show on turf. They win with their offense. In fact, that Saints have unceremoniously acquired that title as the new greatest show on turf.
So based on that, and the fact that the Saints welcome back their entire offense (less Robert Meachem), they are still going to score points. Does that mean they'll win the Super Bowl? Probably not. But, they go into any game with a clear shot at winning, regardless of the venue or opponent. I honestly think the greatest thing that will hurt the Saints is how corrupt Roger Goodell is and how he'll stop at nothing to further his agenda. I have zero faith in the Saints getting a fair shake this season from refs. Call that conspiracy theory all you want, but I think we as fans are bracing ourselves for a lot of calls not going the Saints' way this season. I know Goodell wants to avoid the Saints playing the Super Bowl in New Orleans after that hot mess of an offseason at all cost. It would be a PR nightmare (either for the league, or for him). It's a story he will not tolerate. Is it really that farfetched? Look at Tim Donaghy. If you look hard enough, someone can be bought. All I know is Goodell is the big dog, he's already proven to have questionable ethics based on how he's manipulated this situation (regardless of the Saints' guilt or innocence) and he adamantly does not want the Saints to have success.
2. News reports say that Tom Benson ordered the bounty incentives to end, yet neither Mickey Loomis nor Sean Payton were fired over this. Did Bountygate reach to the top?
The Saints had a pay for performance system. This much we know. Anything beyond that is unproven. If I had to guess, did they have a bounty program? Yes, probably. But, I can't say for sure. I do know this system, whatever the exact rules of engagement were, was run solely by Gregg Williams.
When the Saints hired Williams - he said, fine I'll come to your team, but you let me run this defense my way, my rules, and get the F out of my way. At the time, the Saints were so desperate to get ANYTHING out of their defense that Sean Payton agreed to give GW the keys. His personality never jived with how Benson/Loomis/Payton did business, but they respected his results. After a Super Bowl in year 1, his "F You" clause basically got untouchable. So no, Payton/Loomis/Benson all had zero involvement or part administering this program. They also did nothing to stop it. That was the arrangement they had with Williams. They turned the blind eye on anything deemed "potentially unethical" and they continued to deny any knowledge. They kept plausible deniability, but of course they had a good idea what was going on, and ultimately paid for it. Was it worth it? Well, the Saints wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without Gregg Williams, so you tell me.
The Saints don't have the rich winning history of the Redskins, and honestly growing up I never imagined seeing the Saints win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. So yeah, it was worth it. And then some. But it came at a price, and the team is suffering from it now. Small price to pay for a Lombardi Trophy if you ask me. Sean Payton will be back next year and while Brees is in his prime, the Saints will continue to make a run at another title.
3. Washington has this shiny new toy. Can Redskins fans be sure that there is no bounty on Robert Griffin III?
Haha. Good question. Well, Vilma and Smith are suspended, but the Saints still have Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Scott Shanle, numerous d-linemen etc... from the GW regime. They are still GW disciples that learned how to play the game the way he taught them to - with intent to destroy their opponent. Call it bounty, call it playing aggressive, call it dirty... whatever. If Roman Harper gets a clear shot at RGIII I can promise you he's not going to think twice about it.
4. What coverage or defensive schemes have been troublesome for Drew Brees? How can he be beat?
There is no scheme or coverage that "beats" him. Sorry. There's a reason this is the best offense in NFL history. Man, blitz, zone, dropping 8 in coverage... Brees has an answer for everything and too many weapons. That's why no one can stop them. The key is getting pressure without blitzing. The problem is, the Saints' offensive line is exceptional.
That said, Orakpo/Kerrigan are very good as you guys know well, so slowing down the Saints' offense starts with them being disruptive. But the Skins' D will get beat at times, that's just a reality. Now if Brees gets hurt that changes everything, obviously. Another thing I tell many opposing bloggers: Brees throws so much, he will make 2-3 bad throws a game. Your DB's will get their hands on a few balls during the game. It is of the utmost importance that when you get that opportunity you make the catch (INT). If you don't, they come back the next play and beat you for a TD. You'll get a few shots a game at turnovers/getting off the field, and you have to capitalize and take advantage. I've seen lots of DB's over the last 6 years drop easy to not so easy INTs and pay dearly for it a few plays later. You won't get many opportunities, but they will definitely come and it's crucial to make them when they do come.
5. What's your first impression of DC Steve Spagnuolo? What is he doing differently than Gregg Williams?
Very positive. He's not a jerk. I met him at the Hall of Fame Game and he's a classy guy, nowhere near the brash style of GW. He's still regarded as a brilliant defensive mind and aggressive in his game planning. He likes to get pressure with his front four more so than all out blitzing (GW's forte) and he'll run more zone coverages at quarterbacks. Young quarterbacks seem to struggle with zone more than vets do, so we'll see how RGIII responds. So there are some similarities in that they are intense and aggressive, but they are aggressive in different ways and I'd say their approach from a personality standpoint is the biggest difference.
5. How do the Redskins attack the Saints defense?
Having success on the ground is very important. That keeps the clock running and the Saints' offense off the field. Shanahan knows a couple things about establishing a run game so that's a promising thing for you guys. While the Saints added Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton to improve run defense, the latter two are coming into this game banged up. But Morris/Helu/Royster (who is the starter anyway?) will need to play well. The Saints do have good cover corners and solid safeties, so establishing a run game to set up play action is key. The Saints have historically also been awful at covering explosive tight ends, so Fred Davis could have a good game.
6. What's your prediction and score for the game?
Saints 38 Redskins 24. The Saints are unbeatable in the Superdome. 9-0 last year, playoffs included, and all nine games were double-digit wins. The environment w/ the best fans in football (ask any player, the dome is the loudest stadium with the possible exception of Seattle) and the perfect controlled climate makes for an unstoppable offense. I think RGIII will make some huge plays early and get some excitement going, I think he's going to be pretty special, but he'll make some key mistakes in the second half.
Thanks, Andrew. For great coverage of the New Orleans Saints, visit thesaintsnation.com.