The storylines are plentiful in this much-anticipated NFC matchup, as Robert Griffin III debuts for the Washington Redskins against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints at 1pm EST on Fox. Heisman Trophy winners have often struggled in the NFL, but Griffin can look to Cam Newton’s stellar 2011 rookie campaign as a blue print for this year. Washington will face a New Orleans club in transition, coming off a bounty scandal that saw the NFL levee various suspensions on head coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith (although the player suspensions have since been halted). However, the Saints still have Drew Brees directing an excellent offense and a raucous home crowd that could intimidate Griffin.
When the New Orleans Saints have the ball:
Brees has become one of the best quarterbacks in recent NFL memory, and he set a new league all-time record for passing yards last season with 5,476. Brees also tossed 46 touchdown passes and had a stellar completion percentage of 71.2%. Marques Colston and Lance Moore are back on the outside, while Jimmy Graham has emerged as a star at the tight end position.
The Redskins defense was decent in the yardage department last season but did not generate enough turnovers. Linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan led Washington to a solid total of 41 sacks in 2011, but they must get more help from the secondary. Obviously getting pressure on Brees and not letting him settle into a rhythm will be a major factor for the Redskins on Sunday.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
The heralded Griffin has a ton of expectations to deal with as he plays his first NFL game. The Redskins running game could be his best friend, as tailbacks Evan Royster and Roy Helu look to become the lead ball carrier in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Washington brought in receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to help Griffin, and tight end Fred Davis should be a favorite target for the new signal caller.
The Saints defense was preparing for life without Vilma and Smith until their suspensions were overturned, but an improvement from last season’s 24th ranking may be difficult. New Orleans was fairly solid against the run a year ago but finished last in the NFC with only 16 takeaways. Stopping the Redskins running attack will be the top priority in this game.
The Redskins will need to cause some turnovers in order to slow down the Brees-led passing game and to put Griffin in some advantageous positions. It’s difficult to see the rookie quarterback consistently leading the Washington offense on long drives, and Griffin must protect the ball. If the Redskins can establish the run and keep the ball away from Brees, they can keep it close and try to pull off an upset in the fourth quarter.
Saints 30 Redskins 17
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)