The New Orleans Saints have proven they’re capable of getting after the quarterback this season, even if the rush hasn’t been consistent.
New Orleans, led by a Pro Bowl-type season from defensive end Cameron Jordan, is tied for 14th in the NFL with 19 sacks.
But getting to Washington’s Kirk Cousins might be as difficult as it was to get to Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota last week. Washington has given up just nine sacks, tied for the best mark in the league, due to a passing game that gets the ball out of Cousins’ hand before the rush has time to get to the quarterback.
“The ball is coming out quickly with some tempo out of the shotgun in the normal situations,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Some of these gun offenses do a great job of getting the ball out. That still can’t be a deterrent. We still have to find ways to affect the quarterback.”
Washington has been willing to give up something to get the ball out so quickly.
Cousins is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, a mark that ranks dead last in the NFL.
What Jay Gruden’s attack can do is move the chains, putting pressure on the underbelly of a Saints defense that has been thin at linebacker and struggled to make stops against Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker last week. Washington tight end Jordan Reed and slot receiver Jamison Crowder are both capable of getting open quickly underneath and putting pressure on a defense.
Washington’s approach isn’t unique in an NFL trying to protect its passers.
But Cousins has been able to get it out quickly enough that he’s rarely gone down with the ball even though he’s playing behind a young offensive line that has battled injuries all season long.
“It feels like every quarterback is trying to get the ball out as fast as possible,” Edebali said. “Sometimes, it’s like three-step dropback, screens and stuff, so that makes it tough.”
The New Orleans pass rush, much-maligned at the beginning of the season, had built some momentum up until the Tennessee game.
After moving Jordan inside on passing downs to get Hau’oli Kikaha and Kasim Edebali on the field together, the Saints produced 12 sacks in their three-game winning streak, including three against a New York Giants team that has given up just 12 sacks this season, tied for sixth in the NFL.
With Kikaha sidelined due to an ankle injury, New Orleans was down one man against Tennessee, and the Titans kept Edebali off the field by sticking to a two-tight-end set that kept the Saints in their base defense and out of their pass-rushing combinations up front.
Despite giving up four sacks per game previously, Tennessee kept Mariota clean on Sunday.
“Yeah, that’s something we definitely take pride in (making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable) and have to do a better job of. Clearly it wasn’t enough last game,” Jordan said. “Zero sacks, a couple hurries, some pressures, but not enough to really make the quarterback worried about what we’re doing and where we are.” Kikaha has been limited in practices this week, offering hope that he can return against Washington.
Cousins hasn’t been sacked more than twice in any game this season, and only the deep, devastating line of St. Louis got him for two sacks.
But even if Washington won’t let the Saints sack Cousins often, New Orleans still has to be able to make his life difficult. “You want to make sure you’re in a throwing lane, the quarterback doesn’t have a clean look and you get your hands up,” Edebali said. “You just give him good pressure.”