By Tarik El-Bashir
Redskins vs. Saints
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox WTTG-5 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)
The moment a floundering franchise and a famished fan base has awaited for months finally arrives Sunday.
Robert Griffin III won’t end Washington’s stretch of four consecutive last place finishes in the NFC East in a single game. But how the No. 2 overall draft pick shows against the Saints will hint at how quickly a turnaround might begin.
Coach Mike Shanahan has tailored the Redskins’ offense to accentuate Griffin’s ability to tuck the ball, take off and leave defenders grasping at air. The extent to which Griffin does that, however, remains unclear after a 3-1 preseason in which Shanahan shielded his playbook from rest of the NFL and his prized rookie from potential harm.
Griffin attempted only 31 passes and five rushes scattered over parts of three preseason games, which has left more questions than answers about the 22-year-old’s comfort level and, more important, how Shanahan plans to deploy his most dangerous weapon.
Asked directly how he intends to use Griffin against the Saints, Shanahan flashed a wry smile and said: “You’ll have to show up and come to the game.”
We’ll be there, Coach. But Griffin won’t be the only player the CSN Washington team will be monitoring. Here’s what else we’ll be watching:
Redskins returning to health
The Redskins open the season as healthy as they’ve been in recent memory. In fact, only one starter on the active roster – strong safety Brandon Meriweather – will miss the game if left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (knee), linebacker Brian Orakpo (shoulder) and cornerback Josh Wilson (abdominal strain) suit up as expected.
The loss of Meriweather, though, could be a significant one against a vaunted air attack directed by one of the game’s best passers in Drew Brees, who last season broke Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season.
The Redskins’ depth chart lists Reed Doughty as Meriweather’s backup, but it seems more likely that DeJon Gomes will pick up the slack. Gomes is more mobile than Doughty and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week that Gomes’ coverage skills have shown “great improvement” entering his second NFL season.
But will that be enough against Brees and targets like tight end Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston? (Colston is listed a questionable with a left foot injury after being limited in practice Friday.)
“They have a whole crew of guys,” Gomes said. “And they have a good running game to complement their passing game. We have be on our P’s and Q’s.”
Mystery surrounds running back position
The Shanahans have been elusive about how they intend to implement running backs Evan Royster, Roy Helu Jr. and Alfred Morris.
Will they ride the “hot hand” as Kyle indicated this week? Will they allow the situation to dictate their choice? Will they rotate them?
Royster joked Monday that he might know the plan – and who’s starting – until after kickoff.
So, it seems, there’s only one way to find out. More important, though, what unfolds Sunday might provide a glimpse at how the trio will be utilized the remainder of the season.
(Update Sun. 5:00 a.m.: Morris will start at running back, according to a report.)
Redskins prepare for Supdome noise in their own dome
New Orleans is home to Griffin’s parents, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, and he’ll have three-dozen members of his extended family in attendance at the Superdome. The other 72,000 on hand, however, will be bent on making Griffin’s first career start as difficult as possible.
To say the aging arena in downtown New Orleans is loud would be understatement. It’s deafening – and a big reason the Saints went 9-0 at home last season.
Griffin and the rest of the Redskins’ offense has spent the past three weeks preparing for the challenge in Ashburn, where faux crowd noise was blasted during at least two practices inside the team’s practice bubble. Practice, though, is no substitute for experience.
“We’ve got to go out and make sure we can communicate non-verbally,” Griffin said. “Make sure guys aren’t making little mistakes because they can’t hear.”
As if going toe-to-toe with Brees, reading an NFL defense in the regular season for the first time and controlling his own emotions weren’t enough for him to worry about.
Good news on bounty suspensions won't have much effect
After a tumultuous offseason that included the bounty scandal and Brees’ sometimes testy contract negotiations, the Saints scored their first victory of the 2012 season on Friday.
A three-member appeals panel overturned the suspensions of the players implicated in the pay-to-injure scheme, clearing the way for them to return Sunday.
It’s expected that Saints defensive end Will Smith will play against the Redskins, while linebacker and emotional leader Jonathan Vilma will watch from the sidelines. Vilma is still recovering from a knee injury.
The Saints didn’t need another reason to get fired up. But now they’ve got one.
“Victory is mine!!!!” Vilma tweeted.