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What to watch for in Redskins-Saints on 'MNF'

NFL.com | Updated: 2018-10-10 04:00:20

CUT TO: Monday Night Football in New Orleans.

What better time and place to salute the greatness of Drew Brees, the ageless Saints signal-caller who sits on the doorstep of history?

Brees needs just 201 passing yards against the Redskins to overtake Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time leading thrower. Notched below Manning (71,940) and Brett Favre (71,838), the 39-year-old Brees is a super-solid bet to pull of the feat.

How solid?

Having thrown for 201-plus passing yards in 210 of his 252 career starts (a whopping 83.3 percent), life events with a lower chance of happening, per the number-wizards at NFL Research, include Michael Jordan nailing a free throw in the playoffs (82.8) and Tom Brady winning a game he starts (77.6).

Moreover, it feels entirely likely because of the frenetic, versatile offense Brees commands, but an underrated Washington defense has voyaged south to spoil the party.

Here's what we'll be watching come Monday night:

1. Just in time to witness his quarterback try for the record books, here comes Mark Ingram, the rumbling, rugged runner who returns to New Orleans following his four-game ban for PEDs. Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, Ingram famously joined Alvin Kamara as the first teammate-runner duo in NFL history to each top 1,500-plus scrimmage yards in a single season in 2017.

So, how will the Saints use them both come Monday night?

While Kamara's carries increased with each of his four starts this season (8, 13, 16, 19), Ingram's return fits like a glove with what his teammate does best. Kamara's ground work is coupled with 35 catches for 336 yards through the air, including a pair of 100-yard receiving performances to go with his six overall touchdowns. He's on pace to set a record for catches by a running back, making him one of the more unusual weapons league-wide.

Ingram can take some of the ground weight off Kamara while allowing him to kill teams in space as a pass-catcher. Last season, Ingram handled 18 touches per game to Kamara's 12.6, but I'd expect the latter's workload to stay north of that going forward. It's a juicy problem to have for coach Sean Payton.

Yes, it was a nuisance to lose Ingram out of the gate, but it's not the worst thing in life to get a fresh-legged, churning thunder-back in mid-October.

2. Throw in the incredible -- and, frankly, underrated -- Michael Thomas, and it's tough to imagine a world where Brees doesn't reach his record-setting goal. The third-year wideout has piled up 42 catches in four starts, second league-wide despite the vast majority of players with an extra game on the books.

The Saints won't have deep-treat Ted Ginn, out with a knee injury, leaving Cameron Meredith and third-rounder Tre'Quan Smith to round out a lineup that also features 37-year-old tight end Ben Watson.

Thomas, though, can pick up the slack, having shown an ability to topple double coverage and do battle with some of the league's finest corners. Before notching just four grabs last week against the Giants, no team had kept Thomas under 10-plus catches all autumn. I can't help but feel as though he'd be treated like Odell Beckham by the media if he played somewhere else.

3. The challenge falls on a quietly sturdy Redskins defense to upset expectations in New Orleans.

Washington enters the evening ranking second in points allowed per game (14.7) and third in yards relinquished per tilt (278.0), air yards per game (187.3) and opposing passer rating (77.0). That said, it's fair to note the opponents: a flatlining Cardinals club, a still-figuring-themselves-out Colts offense and a Packers team hardly at the height of their powers.

Still, Washington has seen solid play out of the gate from defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, linebacker Zach Brown and a secondary led by Josh Norman and safety D.J. Swearinger. They'll have their hands full on the road come Monday night.

4. It falls on Alex Smith to keep Washington's offense on pace with Brees and friends. It's strange to watch Kirk Cousins unfurling pitch-perfect darts for the Vikings and wonder how the Redskins mismanaged that asset to such a glaring degree, but Smith is an acceptable next option.

It has plenty to do with the overall makeup of the squad, but Smith has helped the offense to more total yards per game over last season (324.9 to 383), a better completion percentage (64.3 to 68.8), improved success on third down and an overall improvement in passer rating (from 93.9 to 102.2).

Not unlike the Saints, the Redskins have leaned heavily on the backfield for production on the ground -- and through the air -- with passing down wonder Chris Thompson topping the team with 20 catches. Tight end Jordan Reed is next (14), topping a gaggle of receivers led by Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson.

5. The most enticing story for Washington is the surging start by Adrian Peterson, the 33-year-old runner who looks faster and fresher than he has in ages. Peterson scattered the Cardinals for 166 total yards in the opener before rumbling for 120 at 6.6 yards per carry in Week 3's win over the Packers.

The question for a latter-day Peterson always boiled down to fitting inside an offense. He's not a passing down asset -- although he's looked good catching the ball this season -- but the Redskins suit him well. Paired with Thompson, Washington's versatile backfield will angle to steal the thunder from the much ballyhooed Ingram and Kamara.

It's time to settle back into the easy chair and allow this October gridiron tussle to wash over you like a cool wave of spiritual wonder from the East -- or maybe just at a sports bar with your bro-pals. You decide.

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