Before the Redskins visit the Saints in New Orleans, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Dante Koplowitz-Fleming provide the storylines and matchups to follow on Monday night.
1. Play consistent throughout the entire game
It's only been three games, but a small trend has emerged for the Redskins: they haven't scored a touchdown in the third or fourth quarter.
In both of the Redskins' victories, starting fast hasn't been a problem. Washington put up 21 points against the Cardinals in Week 1, enough of a cushion to propel them to victory. Against the Packers, they put up 28 points in two quarters, starting with a four-play touchdown drive to begin the game.
Both times, the defense held off the opponent from making a charge late, and the offense didn't need to find the end zone. That will eventually have to change if the Redskins want to keep winning.
Case in point: The Saints rank third in points per game, averaging 34.2, while quarterback Drew Brees is averaging 313.8 passing yards per game. If the Redskins were to keep up their winning ways, and their habits on offense, they'd need to score a lot in the first half. That's not sustainable.
"I mean I don't think you can ever expect to go out there and not score any touchdowns in the second half and win ball games, against anybody, certainly against good offenses and good quarterbacks like Drew [Brees]," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Need to be better moving forward, need to learn from it, and grow from it absolutely."
Because the Redskins have held big leads entering the second half of their two victories, the offense has played more conservative to finish the game. Regardless of what the score is at the beginning of the third quarter, Smith knows for the offense to be successful and drive down the field, they must execute situationally.
"I think looking at it that the productivity when we've been good, we've been good situationally," Smith said. "We've been good on third down. We've been good in red zone, short yardage situations, goal line – those things. Situational football, I think, wins football games more often than not in the league and continues to be good in those areas and then putting together four quarters, consistent football. In our two wins we've played lights out for a couple halves and then had some disappointing halves. I think the consistency of putting together four quarters."
2. Turn pressures into sacks
When playing against a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback like Drew Brees, getting pressure from the defensive line becomes even more important.
Washington has been successful at disrupting opposing quarterbacks this season, ranking top-10 in pressures. They've sacked, hit or hurried opposing quarterbacks on 30.9 percent of pass attempts per Football Outsiders. They'll need to keep that up against a Saints offensive line that's allowing the third-lowest pressure rate at 19.1 percent.
On top of that, Washington will need to make more out of their pressures because they're sacking opposing quarterbacks at a bottom-third rate in the league. This has been the story of their outside linebackers corps in particular, with perennial Pro-Bowler Ryan Kerrigan still chasing his first sack of the season.
"I don't think I've played poorly, but it is frustrating that the production hasn't been there because that is a reflection of your performance," Kerrigan said. "So, yeah it's frustrating but you have to remind yourself that as a pass rusher you can beat your guy, you can do all these things right but sometimes it just doesn't work out. You can have times where you come completely unblocked, the quarterback doesn't see you and you get an easy, cheap sack that way. And so it's, pass rushing's a weird thing in that way."
The Redskins could use some of those cheap, easy sacks Kerrigan mentioned when they play New Orleans on Monday Night Football. Holding them to field goals when they cross midfield would be huge, as it's probably the most realistic way of containing a Saints offense that's been dominant this season scoring over 30 points per game.
On a positive note, Washington has gotten plenty of production from their interior defensive line. Matt Ioannidis is leading the team with three sacks, having netted one in each game he's played. He's done this all while playing limited snaps, and on top of that he'll have the most favorable matchup, lining up against Saints right guard Larry Warford, the only starting lineman on New Orleans squad who's allowed six or more hurries according to Pro Football Focus.
Second-year defensive end Jonathan Allen has also ramped up his production, collecting two sacks against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during Washington's Week 3 win. Allen is developing into a proficient pass rusher, and was a problem for the Packers guards. He'll need to continue his production if Washington wants to stop the Saints offense.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 5 game against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
3. Wrap up and tackle
A big reason for New Orleans' success on offense has come from the playmaking of their ball carriers.
Both running back Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas have been slippery this season. Kamara is fourth in the league in broken tackles according to Football Outsiders, and Thomas is tied for fifth among wide receivers.
When Kamara catches a five-yard pass on a flare route to the flats, it has big play potential. It's uncommon for him to be wrapped up immediately, and it has allowed New Orleans offense to put up points in a hurry.
Washington knows that from experience, though. In last year's game against the Saints, the Redskins led 31-16 in the fourth quarter. Kamara had a rookie breakout game, going for over 100 yards from scrimmage and catching the game-tying touchdown on the last drive of regulation (he also scored the two-point conversion to actually knot the game up at 31).
On top of those two playmakers, the Saints get back Mark Ingram, their starting back from last year. Ingram and Kamara were a deadly duo against Washington, combining for 271 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Ingram is another back who can break tackles, ranking fifth in broken tackles rate among players with 250 or more touches in 2017.
Tackling will be key for the Saints, and linebacker Mason Foster knows it might take more than one defender to bring down the Saints ball carriers.
"They've got a lot of weapons, a lot of versatile athletes they get the ball to in space. We've got to swarm to the ball. It's going to be big for us to run all day long, try to get the ball back," Foster said. "Drew Brees is a great quarterback, he knows how to spread the ball around and get them into the right look, so it's going to be a great challenge for us but we've just got to go out there and play as hard as possible."