Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' 47-14 defeat of the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon at FedExField.
1. Pretty much everything went right for the Redskins on Sunday.
We'll dig into some of the details below, but, in a general sense, there won't be many corrections for Jay Gruden and his coaching staff to go over with their players in meetings on Tuesday when they look at the Saints game film.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 10 matchup against the New Orleans Saints Nov. 15, 2015, at FedExField.
Yes, like any game, there were some issues and there's something to learn from every play, but by midway through the second quarter, the Washington offense was pretty much moving the ball and scoring at will (and when it wasn't, Dustin Hopkins was there to make a field goal on four occasions), and its defense put a plug on the league's top offensive unit, holding Drew Brees to a season low in passing yards.
Sunday's game was probably one of the more complete games for the Redskins in recent memory – certainly in their history at FedExField – and, I'm sure for many, it brought back memories of the glory days in the 1980s and early 1990s when the team was in contention for a Super Bowl title seemingly every season.
Though it'd be an overreaction to place this Redskins team in with those championship squads, the fact of the matter is, with the three other NFC East teams losing on Sunday, Washington sits just a half-game out of first place in the division.
With seven games remaining this season, that's all you can really ask if you're the Redskins. Now, let's see if they can take the momentum of a big home win on the road next time out, when the Redskins take on the 9-0 Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C.
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2. The tone of the game changed after two huge defensive stops early in the third quarter.
Down 27-14 and with the ball to open the second half, the Saints drove all the way to the Washington 31-yard line after a short three-yard pass from Brees to veteran receiver Marques Colston.
On 3rd and 1, the Saints turned to former Redskins running back Tim Hightower to try to get the first down. He was stuffed by Will Compton and Trent Murphy.
So instead of trying to attempt a 49-yard field goal with Kai Forbath, Saints head coach Sean Payton made the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 – something he does more than any other coach in the league.
Lined up under center, Brees handed off to C.J. Spiller to his right.
A Spiller conversion and a fresh set of downs, and who knows – maybe Brees eventually finds the end zone and gets his team within six with plenty of ballgame left?
Those hopes were dashed, however, when Spiller was absolutely rocked at the line of scrimmage by defensive linemen Chris Baker and Kedric Golston, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
With the Redskins' offense continuing its strong day, their defense used the momentum from that turnover on downs the rest of the way, as the Saints wouldn't even sniff the red zone the rest of the afternoon.
For a Washington defense that has taken its lumps for its run defense the past few weeks, you can imagine coordinator Joe Barry and his crew were elated to see those two stops Sunday afternoon.
3. The Redskins' blocking – from their offensive line up front to their wide receivers – was on point against the Saints.
Just like the Redskins' run defense has been under the microscope in recent weeks, the team's rushing attack has struggled as well, collecting just 172 combined yards in the four games prior to Sunday's game.
But you knew with guys like Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson in the backfield that it was only a matter of time before the offense snapped out of their funk and made some progress running the ball.
Not only did the Redskins make progress on Sunday – they turned in their best rushing performance in two seasons. Their 213 rushing yards against the Saints was the first time they eclipsed the 200-yard mark since Nov. 3, 2013, in a win over the San Diego Chargers (209 yards, including overtime).
The best part about the rushing success against the Saints was that it was clear everybody bought in and was doing their part to ensure Morris, Jones and Thompson had tons of room to run.
Up front, the offensive line was getting a great push, as the New Orleans defensive linemen and linebackers were often four, five, six yards past the line of scrimmage. Jordan Reed and Derek Carrier, the two active tight ends on Sunday, did a great job on the edge. And the Redskins' receivers – every single one of them – played a key part throughout the afternoon in keeping their cornerback and safety counterparts at bay just long enough so that the ball carriers could make plays into the second level.
"You saw people getting downfield blocking in the screens also, you saw the lineman getting downfield and making big, big blocks that we might have missed in weeks past," Gruden said. "But overall, I think that offensive line was outstanding in all phases today. When you put out these type of numbers – rush for over 200 yards and throw for over 300, you can't single anybody out. The offensive line played a heck of a football game. I'm very proud of them."
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4. The Redskins showed off their team speed, particularly on offense.
Yes, Kirk Cousins turned in an all-time-great performance on Sunday when you consider his perfect quarterback rating was the first by a Redskins' quarterback since at least 1950.
Cousins was decisive. He was precise. He was a leader.
But, perhaps most importantly, he got the ball into the hands of his playmakers and let them do what they do best to find some open field and make some plays.
Case in point: the 78-yard touchdown pass to Jones. The play was a screen to the big rookie running back, and Jones showed impressive elusiveness and vision to break free and put on the burners once he had open field to find the end zone.
On his first touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed, Cousins got the ball in No. 86's hands on a little bootleg around the line of scrimmage, and Reed the rest from there, running 16 yards and diving all out for the end zone.
Cousins also led big gains on short passes to Jamison Crowder (31 yards), Jones again (29 and 24 yards) and Thompson (23 yards).
"Yeah, it helps a lot when you can just dump the ball off and the next thing you know it's a first down and more," Cousins said. "It was good to see our screen game worked, running the ball worked, not just one type of run but several, and we spread the ball around and targeted a lot of different guys. All of those I think are positives. It was just a great week."
5. Sunday's game could be a preview of some permanent changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Whether it was because of injuries or because coaches felt some changes need to be made, the Redskins' defense had two new starters on Sunday against the Saints: Compton at middle linebacker and Jeron Johnson at strong safety.
Check out these top defensive and special teams photos from the Washington Redskins 2015 Week 10 matchup against the New Orleans Saints Nov. 15, 2015, at FedExField.
Compton was starting for Keenan Robinson, who was inactive on Sunday due to issues with his shoulder and neck. Johnson, meanwhile, got the nod ahead of Trenton Robinson, who had started the previous seven games after Duke Ihenacho suffered a season-ending wrist injury Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
Compton had a solid afternoon, as he was instrumental in the aforementioned third down stop in the third quarter that eventually led to a huge turnover on downs and unofficially finished with eight tackles – second-best on Sunday to Bashaud Breeland's nine stops – and a pass deflection.
And while Johnson did not register any defensive stats against the Saints, he played a key role in limiting Brees to 209 passing yards. He came into Sunday's game averaging an NFL-best 345.4 passing yards per game.
The Redskins like Compton and Johnson for their ability to not only get to the ball carrier, but to bring him down with a little authority when needed. They both could be in for more starts the rest of the season, so stay tuned.
Also, another change on Sunday was seeing DeAngelo Hall getting a few reps at safety. Hall, a Pro Bowl cornerback throughout his career, has been battling a painful toe injury suffered Week 3 against the New York Giants, and was able to make his return to the field against the Saints.
But with Chris Culliver and Breeland doing a solid job as the team's primary cornerbacks, Gruden wanted to figure out a way to get Hall into the action, too.
"We wanted to find a spot for D-Hall because he's a big leader for this football team and a heck of a player, so we put him out there — as he's recovering — at safety on scout team and he did some good things," Gruden said Monday. "It's a transition that I think he can make."
As for how much time at safety Hall could see moving forward, Gruden said "we'll determine that later."
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