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Thursday, September 6, 2012
Downfield passing key for Redskins, Saints

By ESPN Stats & Information

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDrew Brees is back after a record-breaking year, but Sean Payton won't be on the sideline for the Saints this season.
After one of the best offensive seasons in NFL history, the New Orleans Saints will be short-handed on defense and along the sidelines as they host the Washington Redskins in their season opener.
When Redskins have the ball
The suspensions as a result of the Saints’ bounty program could have an impact on the defense. New Orleans used five-or-more pass rushers on nearly half of opponent dropbacks under Gregg Williams over the last three seasons.

If new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo changes the philosophy, it could come at a price. New Orleans averaged a sack once every 36.8 dropbacks when rushing four or fewer last season, the worst rate in the NFL.

The Redskins were one of the few teams that added pressure didn’t faze last season. Washington quarterbacks completed 57.7 percent of their passes under added pressure, only 1.7 percent lower than their completion percentage against four-or-fewer rushers. Only the Houston Texans and New England Patriots had a smaller dropoff.

One area where Robert Griffin III should be able to improve the Redskins’ offense is throwing the deep ball. Last season, the Redskins completed a league-worst 22 percent of their passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield.

Griffin III is the fourth quarterback drafted by Washington in the first round of the NFL draft in the common draft era. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the other three – Jason Campbell, Patrick Ramsey and Heath Shuler – combined to go 34-55 for the Redskins and never started a playoff game.

He will be the fourth different starting quarterback for Washington since Mike Shanahan arrived in 2010. In that span, the Redskins have thrown 43 interceptions, the second-highest total in the NFL.

When Saints have the ball
There are fewer questions on the other side of the ball for the Saints. Last season, Drew Brees threw for a single-season record 5,476 yards and also set NFL records for completion percentage (71.2) and completions (468).

Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 43 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history. Johnny Unitas threw for a touchdown in 47 straight games from 1956-60.

He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield last season. His accuracy led the league on such passes, where the average quarterback completed 47 percent.

The Saints’ offense gained an NFL-record 467 yards per game last season, and was even better at home. New Orleans averaged 493 yards and 41 points per game at home. Both were the second-best home totals in league history.

Key stat
The Saints have won a franchise-record eight straight home games, the third-longest active streak in the NFL. However, the Redskins have had success at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Washington is 6-1 all-time at the Superdome and has won three straight games in New Orleans.