Five takeaways from the Redskins' massive win over the Saints
5) A good week of practice seems to have paid off
At the outset of practice last Wednesday, Goldson called the entire team to the middle of the field for an impromptu pep talk. Whatever the defensive captain said seemed to have worked. The Redskins had some of their most intense practices of the season—and those sessions received a lot of credit after Sunday’s win. Coach Jay Gruden called it his team’s “best week of practice” all season. Offensive captain Trent Williams added: “We upped the tempo in practice. Guys were on each other. We expected better from each other and it showed [against the Saints].” Indeed, good teams prepare like that each week. Good coaches and good team leaders demand that from their players each week. If the culture is actually changing in Washington, you'll know it has when pep talks are no longer necessary. Because preparing with focus and intensity is the norm for winning teams.
4) Could there be a new long-term starter at LB?
Will Compton started Sunday at ‘Mike’ inside linebacker, a spot previously held by Keenan Robinson. A team source told me before the game that the decision to sit Robinson was both injury and performance related. Robinson has been battling a shoulder injury and other nagging ailments, which coaches believe have contributed to his struggles. It’s not clear if Compton will be the starter going forward, but he’s certainly making a strong argument for himself. After recording a team-high 10 tackles at Foxboro, he played a defense-high 55 snaps against the Saints and finished with eight combined tackles (second most) and a defended pass. The timing of the switch couldn’t be worse for Robinson, who is a free agent at the end of the season.
3) The defense bottled up Brees and the Saints
After allowing New Orleans to score on two of its first three drives, Joe Barry’s defense held Drew Brees and the Saints’ powerful attack to its lowest output of the season. It was all around effort, but it began with an improved pass rush. After failing to disrupt Jameis Winston (sacked once) or Tom Brady (not sacked), Jason Hatcher, Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea and Chris Baker tightened the screws on Brees, who was sacked twice, but, more important, never seemed to find a comfort zone or get into a rhythm. Brees finished with 209 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions; he entered the game averaging 345 yards passing. Only three teams have not allowed a 300-yard passer this season. Barry’s crew is one of them.
2) A trio of struggling Redskins finally broke out
Safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Perry Riley and running back Alfred Morris were in desperate need of strong individual performances. And all three delivered against the Saints. Goldson missed a crucial tackle on Mark Ingram’s 70-yard run, but he rebounded to record five solo stops as well as the second pick-6 of his career. Riley, meanwhile, notched six combined tackles and defended to two passes, including an important batted ball on the Saints’ first drive and an interception late. After failing to record a tackle against the Patriots, Riley was miles better Sunday. As for Morris, the fourth-year back appeared more aggressive and confident en route to his second 100-plus yard performance of the season and third since the start of the 2013 season. For a trio of previously slumping vets, Sunday showed they can still get the job done.
1) Cousins is starting to find some consistency
Kirk Cousins is beginning to resemble the starting quarterback the Redskins believe he can be. The difference between a starter and a backup is the former performs at a high level week after week. And Cousins, at long last, is starting to do just that. He orchestrated a furious comeback against the Bucs. He played okay against the undefeated Patriots, considering the dropped passes. Then he produced a perfect passer rating against the Saints. Over those three games—his strongest stretch of starts yet—Cousins completed 71-percent of his passes for an average of 286 yards. He's also totaled eight touchdowns and one interception (Pierre Garçon's drop in New England) during that span. That trio of games underscores the Redskins’ decision to ride it out with Cousins, despite the poor performances against Falcons and Jets last month. Cousins’ next challenge will be stringing together consecutive wins—something he’s never done as a starter.