1. How will Jon Jansen's absence affect the offense? This is the first game an offensive lineman will miss all season. That's a pretty good run of health -- and it's a shame it's been wasted in such a bad season. But that's a different story. As for Sunday, it has to have an impact. Todd Wade has not played all season, now his first start is on the road in a noisy stadium and he'll face Charles Grant. That's not a good recipe. Because of the noise, it's imperative that the line is able to communicate well. Considering Wade and Randy Thomas have not played together, it's hard to imagine they can communicate that well, or as well as they need to. Look for Washington to provide lots of help for Wade. Look for the backs to chip Grant as they go out.
2. What does this mean for Chris Samuels? It means he'd better have a heck of a day against Will Smith. The Saints end has a team-high 10.5 sacks so he'll pose problems. But the Redskins need to devote more attention Wade's way, which means Samuels oftentimes will be left one-on-one. If he loses this battle, it's doom for the passing game. But it's not just about the passing game. When the Redskins run their little sweeps and toss plays, the single biggest factor is blocking the ends. The reason the Giants had success against these plays earlier this season is because of their ends. So Samuels has to succeed here, too.
3. Are the Redskins now a dangerous team? What gives you that idea? Just because they're out of the playoffs and have nothing to play for? That makes them a bad team capable of winning a game. They've shown they can play with good teams. But they have not shown they can play with them on the road. So I don't buy them being dangerous. I do buy into the belief that they're playing well enough to keep games closer, mostly because of their ground game. And the other big factor is what do the Saints have left after such an emotional win last week over Dallas?
4. Have guys quit? That's an easy answer: no. Some guys are burned out from having spent the past 10 months busting their butts at Redskins Park with nothing to show for it. That's why players want to alter the offseason program, being allowed more time away from the facility. But, again, that's a different story. But the one thing I don't worry about with this team is them quitting. It's not in their makeup. Some guys surely will taper down, but the vast majority will not. That's why Casey Rabach will play despite a broken hand. That's why Jansen will play again. That's why Phillip Daniels keeps playing despite being highly banged-up.
5. Can the Redskins slow this offense? Um, no. Again, another easy answer. The problem is, Washington has not been a good tackling team and the Saints do an excellent job of getting the ball in space. They have playmakers such as Reggie Bush and receiver Marques Colston who can hurt Washington. And QB Drew Brees is an accurate passer who makes quick decisions. Then there's Deuce McAllister, who can power the ground game especially up the middle. I expect them to run at Kedric Golston a lot. The Redskins have not shown that they can handle a good offense, nor can they stop a smart QB. Why would anyone think that would change Sunday?
6. Where can Washington hurt the Saints? Offensively. And the Redskins can do it both running and passing -- with a big if attached to that statement. Washington should be able to run as the Saints allow 5.1 yards per run on the ground. That's horrendous and with DT Hollis Thomas out, not sure why that would change. Thing is, Washington hasn't shown they can beat anyone grinding it out. Why? Because the Redskins passing game doesn't make plays in the red zone. What they need to do in this game is make big plays downfield -- the Saints corners can't match the speed of Santana Moss and Brandon Lloyd. But that also assumes Lloyd will actually show up.
7. Will the Redskins be more successful in the red zone? I doubt it. Here's my problem with their red zone attack: they have one receiver that has any size and he's a tight end (Chris Cooley). Their wideouts are not much of a threat in this area. Lloyd's leaping ability and hands should make him one, but he hasn't been. To be effective in the red zone, teams must offer diversity. You simply can't just run the ball every time you're down here. Washington typically scores down here, it seems, when it fools the defense or when the QB gets time and the pint-sized receivers can create enough separation to score. Alas, that does not happen much at all. At some point, a big receiver is needed if only to provide a more diversified attack inside the 20.
8. How big a test is this for Jason Campbell? Huge and that's good. He needs to be in a hostile situation where he must deal with crowd noise all the time. How will he handle that? What's clear is that he still doesn't trust either his reads, his receivers or the patterns. He's throwing late because of it, but that's an experience thing. And he needs to learn where to put the ball on certain routes; on the slant to Cooley last week that was tipped, the ball needs to be thrown lower. Again, that's experience. What I've also noticed is that Campbell tends to throw high to his receivers. He's 6-foot-5; they're tiny. He has not adjusted yet to their size.
9. Will Rocky McIntosh play more? Doesn't look like it. He'll probably get a couple series and that's about it. In his one series last week he looked stiff and lost. That's what happens when you never play. McIntosh has shown he can play in a straight-line situation and he's physical; that's why he excels on special teams. But his lack of time on defense is concerning. There's no reason not to play him now: the defense stinks, the season is lost and Warrick Holdman is just a guy. So why isn't McIntosh playing? He does not yet fully grasp the system and that's a problem. They don't want to destroy his confidence by having him play and then struggle mightily. I get that. And the Redskins still want to win games. That's fine, too. But they also need to get ready for 2007. McIntosh should figure into those plans; Holdman is a free agent. Do the math.
10. Will the Redskins win? Hey, we're not Santa Claus; we can't deliver this type of gift. A win over the Saints would provide a nice boost for a season-ending kick. A loss would not be devastating because the Saints are much better. It's just hard to imagine Washington pulling the upset. This reminds me of the Indy game where the Colts pulled away in the third quarter (only a couple plays separated them, Gregg Williams says; yeah, right). Even if the Saints are a bit flat after last week, they know they can clinch a playoff spot with a win. Sounds like incentive to us. Saints 31, Redskins 17.