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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Saints

Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Saints

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, October 3, five days before the Washington Redskins visit the New Orleans Saints.  

Talking points

My first look at what the Redskins will be facing when they take on the Saints on Monday night. 

Drew Brees just keeps rolling along

The Saints quarterback completed over 80 percent of his passes in the Saints’ first three games. He came back to earth against the Giants with a 56.2 completion percentage but he’s still at a league-leading 75 percent for the year. 

A representative from the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be in the Superdome on Monday night to collect the ball he will throw to break the NFL’s career record for passing yards. Brees needs just 201 to get there and even if the Redskins’ passing defense has a good night he is very likely to set the record.

The Saints pass defense gives back a lot of what Brees gets

It’s a good thing for the Saints that Brees gets a lot of passing yards; defensively, they give back a lot of what they gain. The Saints are 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and 31st in adjusted net years per attempt against. 

This doesn’t mean that Alex Smith and company will be able to roll down the field on this unit. Against the Giants, they ran a soft Cover 2 scheme and held New York to 234 yards passing. The Colts used a similar scheme to attempt to frustrate the Redskins’ passing attack in Washington’s Week 2 loss. 

Kamara is the weapon of choice

Alvin Kamara has gone over 100 yards rushing or receiving in three of the Saints’ four games this year. He is tied for the league lead with six touchdowns. The second-year back put away the Giants last Sunday with a 49-yard touchdown run on a play that was designed to just run out the clock. 

And, oh yeah, Mark Ingram, another threat to rush over 100 yards or grab a key pass out of the backfield, is back after serving a four-game suspension. The Redskins’ rushing defense has been shaky in the last two games and they weren’t playing anyone nearly as talented as both members of this duo.

Redskins must keep the lid on

After turnovers, one stat that does a good job of pointing to which team will win an NFL game is explosive plays. Teams that can eat up the field in chunks of 20 yards-plus more often than their opponents have a good chance of winning the game. 

The Saints have piled up a lot of big plays offensively. In four games they have 22 explosive plays. New Orleans has at least six such plays in three of their four games. In three games the Redskins have allowed just five plays of 20 or more yards. If the Redskins can keep the Saints from scoring in a hurry they will have a good chance of winning. If the Saints can tear off a couple of four-play, 75-yard drives, the visitors will be in trouble. 

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The agenda

Today: Alex Smith press conference 12:00; Practice 1:00; Jay Gruden news conference and open locker room after practice, approx. 3:00

Upcoming: Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 5 days; Panthers @ Redskins 11; Cowboys @ Redskins 18

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There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

Ron Rivera's first free agency class with the Redskins consisted of just over a dozen players, many of which share this one specific trait: versatility.

On the offensive side of the ball, Washington added running back J.D. McKissic, who can both run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. Additionally, the team added a pair of offensive lineman, Cornelius Lucas and Wes Schweitzer, who both have experience playing multiple positions along the line. 

The trend of adding versatile players continued in the draft. The Redskins invested a third-round pick in RB/WR hybrid Antonio Gibson and followed that selection with fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles, who played both tackle spots at LSU. The Redskins used another Day 3 pick on Keith Ismael, who played all three interior offensive line spots at San Diego State.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner was asked this week why the team emphasized versatility so much this offseason, and the 37-year-old's reply was simple.

"I think you want to be as unpredictable as possible," Turner told local media via Zoom this week. "You don’t want the defense to know what you’re going to do. I think you do that with balance and everything like that."

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While that sounds ideal, being unpredictable is hard to do. The offensive coordinator explained that keeping opposing defenses on their toes requires a lot more than just mixing up pass plays with rushing ones. 

"Balance is not just run and pass," he explained. "It’s getting all five – you have five eligible receivers on every play – getting all five of those guys. That to me is what true balance is, using all five of those guys in the run game or pass game. So, guys that are able to do different things, it gives you more options of how you can use them and more things that the defense has to defend."

Outside of wide receiver Terry McLaurin, plenty of Washington's offensive weapons remain unproven at the NFL level. However, there's still plenty of optimism in Redskins Park about the team's skill position depth.

The Redskins had a pair of rookie pass-catchers emerge towards the end of last season, Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon, and having another season alongside Dwayne Haskins should only help them. At running back, Adrian Peterson keeps chugging along, and if Derrius Guice can stay healthy, he has the chance to make a huge impact, too. 

Washington's offseason additions of McKissic, Gibson, and fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden, who the offensive coordinator specifically praised, all give Turner plenty of flexibility to be creative with the unit.

"We have guys that we feel like can fit those molds as far as just creatively getting the ball, not just like running back and receiver and we’re going to give a lot of people a chance and see how it shakes out," Turner said.

Too often last season, Washington's offense was extremely predictable, especially once interim head coach Bill Callahan took over. Callahan insisted on running the ball early and often; the Redskins ran the ball 58% of the time on first down, the sixth-highest rate in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats.

Many of these runs were unsuccessful, leaving Washington in plenty of third-and-long situations. Those down-and-distance situations are immensely hard to convert, but even more difficult with a rookie quarterback, which the Redskins had with Haskins last season.

There's only room for improvement for the Redskins offense as Turner enters his first season as the team's offensive coordinator. The unit averaged just 16.6 points per game a season ago, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Washington averaged just 274 yards of total offense per contest in 2019, good for 31st in the league, with only the Jets trailing them.

This season marks the first true offensive coordinator gig that Turner has had; he was promoted to the role in Carolina last December, ironically after Rivera was fired. With the Panthers, Turner had the luxury of running back Christian McCaffrey -- arguably the most versatile offensive player in the NFL -- to his disposal, as well as guys who can play multiple roles like Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore.

While the Redskins may not have a player like McCaffrey, the offensive coordinator has a plan for how he envisions Washington's offense to succeed in 2020, and it all starts with having players who can do multiple things.

"Versatility is so important because it’s uncertainty for the other side of the ball," Turner said.

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Two examples of why ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes Dwayne Haskins will excite Redskins fans

Two examples of why ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes Dwayne Haskins will excite Redskins fans

Scott Turner was asked about quarterback Dwayne Haskins' growth this offseason during a Zoom call with local media earlier this week, and the new Redskins offensive coordinator explained he was pleased with both Haskins' physical and mental progress.

Besides raving about the second-year quarterbacks imposing size and natural arm strength, Turner also dove into specific detail about one other thing that really stood out to him about Haskins: his ability to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a throw without much space.

Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky took to Twitter on Friday, tweeting out two video examples from Haskins' rookie season where the quarterback demonstrated the qualities Turner raved about.

The first example was a clip from the Redskins Week 11 contest against the Jets. The play went down in the scorebook as a 24-yard completion to Kelvin Harmon, but what the quarterback had to do in order to make this play successful was quite impressive.

For this play, Orlovsky explained how Haskins identified where the pressure was coming from pre-snap, causing him to shift the entire protection to the left. After the running back missed his block, Haskins didn't panic. The then-rookie QB stepped up in the pocket and fired a dart to Harmon on the in-route as the receiver broke open in the middle of the field.

"This is one of my favorite plays by him last year," Orlovsky explained. "It really is an example of the intellectual aspect of quarterback play with the feel aspect of quarterback play."

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The second clip was from Washington's clash in Green Bay last season. On this particular snap, Haskins showed his mastery of the Packers' defense.

Haskins' initial read was to the right side, where Harmon was running an inside post route. But once the quarterback saw his first read was covered, he continued to look right, forcing Packers' safety Darnell Savage to slide in that direction. The passer then immediately turned to his backside, which created an open throwing lane to find Terry McLaurin in the middle of the field.

"It really shows a complete understanding of what the defense is, what the coverage is, and then a complete understanding of who on the defense he needs to move with his eyes to open up a window," Orlovsky said.

It's fair to mention that the Redskins would not win either of these games and that the rookie passer had his struggles in each of these contests. It's no secret that Haskins had his growing pains as a rookie, and there were examples of such in each of these matchups, too.

But Haskins did finish the season playing the best football of his young career, giving some hope for the future. Count Orlovsky in on those who are optimistic about the quarterback as he enters his second season with the team and his first as the team's true starter.

"There are so many examples on his tape that show how smart he actually is," Orlovsky said. 

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