SAINTS AT REDSKINS
When: Noon Sunday
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
Records: New Orleans 4-5; Washington 3-5
Coaches: Saints, Sean Payton, 10th season (84-53); Redskins, Jay Gruden, 2nd season (7-16)
Last week: A Washington team that has been up and down this season took a beating at the hands of the NFL’s best team, dropping a 27-10 decision to the New England Patriots and dropping a hail of Kirk Cousins passes as he tried to match wits with Tom Brady.
Offense: Washington wants to run the ball, and the 1-2 punch of Matt Jones and Alfred Morris should be devastating, at least in theory. In practice, Washington has one of the NFL’s worst rushing offenses, ranking 27th in the league in yards per game and averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. The offensive line has been battered by injury, costing Jones and Morris dearly as the guys up front struggle to find continuity. For all intents and purposes, it’s still a young offensive line, with rookie Brandon Scherff and second-year player Morgan Moses carrying big roles.
Washington has asked Cousins to provide the offense, and he’s completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,954 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he also has nine interceptions, and those picks tend to come in bunches. Pierre Garcon (41 catches), Jamison Crowder (38 catches) and tight end Jordan Reed (38 catches) are all having productive seasons. Reed, of course, could be the biggest issue for a Saints defense that hasn’t handled that position well. DeSean Jackson is also back, although he was targeted just once against New England.
Defense: Washington has a pass rush problem — a boost for a Saints team that has feasted on teams that can’t put consistent pressure on Drew Brees. Despite the presence of Ryan Kerrigan and Chris Baker, who have 3½ sacks each, the Redskins have just 12 sacks overall, ranking them near the bottom of the NFL. Baker could be a handful; he does his work from the interior of the line, so he’ll likely avoid human wall Terron Armstead most of the time.
With little help from the pass rush, an aging secondary led by Dashon Goldson and DeAngelo Hall has allowed opposing passers to post a 97.6 rating, a mark that ranks 23rd in the league, and a weak run defense has allowed opponents to rack up 132.5 yards per game on the ground, a mark that ranks 29th in the league. Making matters worse, Washington had nine defenders on the injury report last week, including four cornerbacks. Cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Chris Culliver were both limited last week, and Goldson left the game with a hamstring injury.
Special teams: Ex-Saints kicker Dustin Hopkins, who lost the battle to be New Orleans’ kicker, is 12-of-13 in Washington. Kick returner Rashad Ross is dangerous — he already has a touchdown this season — but Marcus Murphy should have chances. Washington is allowing 13.1 yards per punt return.