What started as a nightmare for the Saints' defense quickly turned into a season of highlight-filled dominance.
It was the NFL Week 1 debut. The New Orleans Saints looked poised to snap a three-year streak of finishing 7-9. Quarterback Drew Brees was back for his 12th season. The team added running back Adrian Peterson to beef up the backfield and used five out of its seven 2017 draft picks on defensive players.
Minnesota served as the first matchup for the new-look New Orleans Saints. The Vikings were still leaning on backup quarterback Sam Bradford and replaced Peterson with rookie Dalvin Cook. The game should have been, at the very least, competitive.
In reality, the Saints' defense collapsed. Brees did his best to keep his team in the game, but Bradford's 346 passing yards and three touchdowns, combined with Cook's additional 127 yards on the ground, were enough to bury the Saints just hours into the 2017 season.
The New Orleans secondary, after spending its first game on its heels, was forced to try and stop Tom Brady just six days later. The outcome was as expected. New England's future Hall of Famer threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots beat the Saints in almost every statistical category, from third down conversions to time of possession. A season that started with hope was quickly on the brink of doom just two weeks into the year.
The Saints' defense looked all but finished, especially with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers slated as its next opponent. That's when everything about the unit changed.
After failing to record a turnover in their first two games, the Saints' secondary picked off Newton three times. They allowed no touchdowns through the air and Newton threw his third lowest yardage total of the season.
The trend of defensive dominance continued as the Saints cruised to seven straight victories. Besides a shootout in Week 5 against Detroit, New Orleans has not allowed more than 20 points in a game since Week 2, including a shutout against the Miami Dolphins.
Now, the Saints possess the NFL's seventh leading pass defense, with 25 sacks and 10 interceptions.
"I think they're well-coached. I think it's a good scheme," said Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. "I think they're creating pressure. It seems like they're getting after the quarterback, batting a lot of passes down at the line of scrimmage. It seems that their secondary is covering very well. They're creating confusion."
Cousins is no stranger to stingy defenses. The Redskins faced the Cowboys, Seahawks and Vikings in the last three weeks, whose defenses are ranked 14th, 13th and 12th in the NFL respectively.
Running back Chris Thompson, who has been primarily used as a check-down receiver and leads the team in catches, should expect extra touches as Cousins avoids the dangerous New Orleans secondary.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, however, said defenses have begun to catch on to Thompson, resulting in his lower than average numbers in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Gruden persisted that he will try to find the best mismatches for his running back, considering the Redskins will be without No. 1 running back Rob Kelley.
"We'll try to get him matched up on the linebackers, but they do a good job of dropping eight guys in coverage sometimes," he said. "It makes it difficult to hit the back, so we'll have to get other people involved, which is fine."