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Key On 'D': Disrupting the Saints' Offense

Forgive the Redskins' defense if they feel a sense déjà vu this Sunday.

They have already played five games against the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, all teams with top NFL offenses. Now they get to face off against the league's top offense, a ranking currently held by the high-powered New Orleans Saints.

The 9-4 Saints, emerging as a real force in the NFC playoff picture, are averaging 30.8 points per game in their last five outings. They are coming off a 42-17 shellacking of the Cowboys last Sunday night.

The key to the Saints resurgence is almost certainly quarterback Drew Brees, acquired last offseason. Brees has emerged as an MVP candidate, having completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 4,033 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.

His arsenal includes rookie wide receiver Marques Colston, who has 59 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Veteran wide receiver Joe Horn has been slowed by a groin injury, but he still has 37 catches for 679 yards and four touchdowns.

Then there's the running back tandem of Deuce McAllister (901 rushing yards, eight TDs) and rookie phenom Reggie Bush (79 receptions, six TDs).

And when head coach Sean Payton wants to surprise a defense, he has Brees throw to fullback Mike Karney, who caught two touchdown passes and ran for another in New Orleans win over Dallas.

"They're a quick rhythm passing team and they're able to put the ball in space to allow they're explosive athletes make plays," Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "Drew Brees is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. He's done a very good job of operating their offense. He's a very experienced guy and he has a commanding presence on the field."

The key, Williams said, will be to disrupt the Saints' rhythm and fluster Brees. That's easier said than done. Brees has only been sacked 15 times this season.

"He stays within himself and avoids mistakes," Williams said. "He lets his playmakers do their jobs. He gets the ball out of his hand in a hurry."

Said cornerback Carlos Rogers: "We're going to have to put pressure on [Brees]. In the games they lost, teams have gotten pressure on him."

The Redskins will also get their first look at Bush, the former USC tailback and Heisman Trophy winner who has made an immediate impact in the NFL. Along with his team-high 79 receptions, he has rushed for 405 yards on 125 carries.

Bush, 6-0 and 203 pounds, has been particularly effective on screen passes. In the win over Dallas, he caught a short pass from Brees and weaved his way through defenders for a stunning 61-yard touchdown.

"The thing about him is, once he gains that momentum, he's non-stop," defensive end Andre Carter said. "He has a great motor. He can maneuver real well and make people miss."

"The main thing for us is to be strong up front and defend well in the screen and the short passes. We just have to play our game, but at the same time when he has the ball, we have to swarm around him."

Added defensive end Demetric Evans: "He's a threat wherever he is on the field. We have to know where he is at all times."

When the Saints want to play smash-mouth football, they turn to McAllister, the six-year veteran. When the Redskins last played against the 6-1, 232-pound McAllister, in November 2003, he rushed for 165 yards on 30 carries in a 24-20 Saints victory at FedExField.

At the end of the ballgames, I've been very impressed at how they don't let teams get the ball back because they've been able to hammer McAllister at people," Williams said. "[Bush and McAllister] have their own styles and we have to recognize who is in the ballgame so that we change that part of our game, too."

Of course, one way to get the Saints' offense out of rhythm is to keep them off the field. The Redskins have established their own version of smash-mouth, ball control football in recent weeks.

Ladell Betts has led the way, rushing for 430 yards in his last three games.

"We have to do our part," he said. "We have to keep the chains moving, make first downs and obviously we have to score points because the Saints are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now."

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