Winning individual battles on defense
When Redskins coaches began reviewing film of the Saints’ offense last season, they saw the NFL’s best quarterback playing at the highest level of his career. Haslett knew there was no strategy he could devise to completely shut down Drew Brees.
The Redskins thought they had an advantage in the matchup of their defensive line and the Saints’ offensive line. That’s where it had to start for Haslett.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker had to beat the Saints’ linemen consistently. They didn’t necessarily have to sack Brees. It was more about applying consistent pressure, batting down passes and disrupting the timing of Brees and the Saints’ wideouts, which usually is like clockwork.
Bowen was a disruptive force. He knocked down several passes in a strong performance. Cofield and Carriker also regularly got inside position with their rush moves. How concerned were the Saints about the Redskins’ consistently strong pass rush? They had numerous false starts among their 12 penalties.
Corner and safety blitzes, another crucial element in Haslett’s design, also prompted Brees to give up on many of the Saints’ deeper routes and throw away balls with the Redskins converging on him.
On one play in the second quarter, DeAngelo Hall and DeJon Gomes blitzed from the same side and Hall got the sack. The Redskins were also, in large part, solid in man coverage in the secondary. A lot of individual victories added up for them.
A new lead running back
Privately, Shanahan told people last week that rookie running back Alfred Morris was his guy. At one point, Shanahan considered starting second-year back Evan Royster only because he didn’t want to put too much pressure on Morris.
But during the installation of the game plan for the Saints, Shanahan decided to go with Morris because he considers him the Redskins’ best player at the position — by far. The stretch play is the staple of Shanahan’s offense. The play requires backs to sprint on an angle toward one side of the line, receive the handoff from the quarterback, make one cut and turn up field.
In part because of Morris’s power to finish runs well and gain extra yards, the Redskins expected to have a good day in the running game. If they did, it would help ease the load on Griffin. Morris rushed for a game-high 96 yards and two touchdowns. Mission accomplished.
What it all means
In his first meaningful game, Griffin was the dynamic player the Redskins envisioned he would become eventually. Just remember: Washington started 2-0 last season and finished 5-11. There are at least 15 more of these to go. But judging by what we saw from Griffin, watching the Redskins could be a whole lot more fun than it has been in a long time.
For columns by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid