The Washington Redskins kick off the season with one of the stiffest challenges they will face all year on defense. Waiting for them at the Superdome on Sunday will be Drew Brees and 2011’s No. 1-ranked offense.


London Fletcher and the Redskins’ defense on Sunday face the Saints, who owned the top-ranked offense in the league last season. (Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

Defensively, the Saints are less imposing, and Sunday’s game will show if they are still reeling from the bounty-gate suspensions, or if new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has found a recipe to help soften the blow.

Robert Griffin III and the upgraded Redskins’ offense will try to get off to a strong start against this defense. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Hall and his fellow defensive backs brace for Brees and his many weapons.

 Here are some of the key matchups for the Redskins’ Week 1 meeting with the Saints:

Redskins LBs Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo vs. Saints TE Jimmy Graham – The responsibility of accounting for explosive tight end Jimmy Graham could fall on either Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan, depending on where Graham lines up. Both linebackers say they feel more comfortable in pass coverage. But this isn’t a one-on-one matchup. Don’t be surprised to see help from either strong safety DeJon Gomes or free safety Madieu Williams. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham – a former basketball player at the University of Miami — had a breakout season last year, recording 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. With a size and athleticism advantage like he has, it will be hard for the Redskins to take Graham out of the Saints’ plans. The Redskins can only hope to keep his gains to a minimum.


Redskins RB Alfred Morris vs. Saints LB Curtis Lofton – The Saints are expected to be missing the heart and soul of their defense – injured middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma – and in his place is Curtis Lofton, who signed with the team this offseason. Lofton and his fellow defenders will try to ensure that Washington doesn’t get a running game going. Meanwhile, Morris – Washington’s sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic – looks to kick off the regular season with production similar to what he provided in the preseason. A strong running game would accomplish two things: 1) provide balance by taking pressure off  Robert Griffin III, and 2) keep Drew Brees off the field.

Redskins LBs vs. Saints RB Darren Sproles – As if having to account for Graham weren’t enough for Washington’s linebackers, they also have to watch Sproles, who is a dual threat for the Saints, averaging 6.9 yards a carry and 8.3 yards a catch last season. Whether it’s Kerrigan, Orakpo or London Fletcher or Perry Riley, the linebacker who picks up Sproles as a receiver out of the backfield, or who meets him at the line on carries, must be a sure tackler. Otherwise, as Jim Haslett put it, “you have one mistake and that turns into a touchdown.”

RB Evan Royster, Roy Helu Jr. vs. SS Roman Harper – The Redskins didn’t put Morris in many pass protection situations, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Royster or Helu used as third-down back. The Saints have a different defense this year, but Harper – who last season led the team with 7.5 sacks – likely will remain involved with blitzes off the edge. Redskins coaches value backs for their rushing ability, but also place a high emphasis on pass protection. Royster and/or Helu have to be solid just as the linemen in front of them do so Griffin has time to make plays.

Redskins DBs vs. Saints WRs – The Saints have no shortage of weapons. Even if the Redskins succeed in negating the threat posed by Graham and Sproles, there is still Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore. DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin certainly have their work cut out for them. Wilson wasn’t ashamed to admit that the defensive backs will rely heavily on the front seven – led by Fletcher and linemen Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker – to get pressure on Brees and cut down on the amount of time he has to locate this potent bunch of receivers downfield.