|Saints vie for 8th straight win, host Redskins|
NEW ORLEANS -- In a city known for seafood and hurricanes -- both in a meteorological and alcoholic sense -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is trying his best to make sure his players don't "eat the cheese."
The "cheese" is the chorus of hosannas the Saints (7-2) have received from their once-again giddy fans and from observers across the country who have begun to pile onto the bandwagon of an unexpected, seven-game winning streak. New Orleans aims to extend that streak on Sunday against the banged-up Washington Redskins (4-5) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"Every day, we talk about the realities of today, each week and the understanding of we're just past the midway point of the season," Payton said. "It's the craziest stuff ever. Tune it out. Laugh at it. Understand what it is, but there's so much more we have to do and accomplish."
An eight-game winning streak would be the Saints' longest since the end of the 2011 season, and they appear to be catching the Redskins at a time when they are especially vulnerable due to a large injury list. Since Payton became the Saints' head coach in 2006, the Redskins have won four of five against New Orleans, with the Saints' lone victory coming in overtime in 2009 at FedEx Field, 33-30.
"That's a surprising stat," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I guess we're going to have to get them. I don't think there's anything to that. I think they are very good team and a team that's looking for a win, just like we are."
Brees is completing nearly 72 percent of his passes -- which would break his NFL record -- but it is the Saints' run-balance with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara that has stunned opposing defenses. New Orleans ran for 298 yards and a franchise-record six rushing touchdowns in a 47-10 road rout of Buffalo last week.
One series typified the Saints' refurbished offensive attack -- a 10-play, 95-yard drive without Brees throwing a single pass. In fact, Brees dropped back to throw from the Buffalo 7-yard line but took off around left end for the score behind a crushing block by left tackle Terron Armstead.
"What's the No. 1 objective? To win," Brees said. "We've been doing that and doing it with the formula that's appropriate for that game. When we're running the ball effectively and playing the type of defense we have been playing, it's not necessary to throw the ball 35-40 times a game. If we can throw the ball mid-20s, rush the ball 40-something times and win the way that we have, that's great."
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he didn't even bother to watch game film of the Saints' defense from two years ago because they have so transformed themselves this year. New Orleans is coming off three consecutive, 7-9 seasons in which they failed to make the playoffs.
"I see all of them playing with a great motor and intensity, and their corners (Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley) are doing a great job. They are disrupting routes and playing great man-to-man."
Gruden said his defense will have to pay special emphasis to the Saints ground attack between the tackles, which was such a potent force against Buffalo. The losses of interior defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis and inside linebackers Mason Foster and Will Compton have hurt, Gruden said.
"We have to figure out a way to collapse holes and create a new line of scrimmage and play physical, and that's going to be a great challenge," Gruden said.
The Redskins, who ranked third in the NFL in 20-yard pass attempts, will try to push the ball down field with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"They stretch the field vertically," Payton said. "I see someone (Cousins) who epitomizes a competitor. There is a feistiness about him, a toughness about him. I think it's contagious with his teammates."
Meanwhile, Brees, at 38, is preaching vigilance and professionalism to his younger teammates who have not experienced this kind of NFL success. Don't eat the cheese.
"I don't think we've played our best football," Brees said. "I know that the challenge is only becoming greater as we go along here (in this season). The ultimate goal of this season was not to be 7-2. The ultimate goal is to continue to put ourselves in position to win the division and go to the playoffs and see what happens.
"I like the track we are on. I think we're an ascending team. We're better every week. We've found a bunch of different ways to win and have a lot of guys playing well and gaining a lot of confidence along the way. We want to keep that going."
The Saints are relatively healthy coming in. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, who missed last week with a groin injury, returned to limited work, but linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday.
Three Redskins did not practice on Wednesday: wide receiver Jamison Crowder (not injury-related), and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee).