ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger texted his defensive back teammates Tuesday night with a simple message: Don’t let Drew Brees set the record. The responses? A series of exclamation points.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback is 201 yards from surpassing Peyton Manning as the NFL’s all-time career passing yardage leader. Certainly the schedule makers anticipated a big night, with this game being played on Monday night.
“We don’t want to see this happen at all,” Swearinger said.
Swearinger was part of a record-breaking game in the past. In 2013, Manning threw his NFL-record 51st touchdown pass of the season vs. Swearinger’s Houston Texans. In fact, Swearinger was the safety on the side of the field where Demaryius Thomas caught the 36-yard TD pass.
“I don’t want to be part of two quarterbacks breaking a record,” Swearinger said. “It’s not a good feeling on a defensive side when a quarterback breaks the record on your defense.”
Swearinger reminded the Redskins’ defensive backs that they’re allowing an average of 187 passing yards per game. So, he said, all they need is to have an average game when it comes to yards allowed and Brees would have to wait another week. But to make that happen, they’ll have to play an above-average game.
Keep in mind that Brees hasn’t thrown for fewer than 200 yards in a loss since 2013 in a Week 13 game vs. Seattle. He threw for 147 that day, averaging 3.69 yards per attempt. The Redskins nearly held him to fewer than 200 yards in a 2015 victory, but Brees still managed 209. There were two games in which Brees threw for fewer than 200 yards last season, but both were in blowout victories. That’s not what the Redskins want to see, either.
“Drew Brees is a great quarterback, a Hall of Famer in my eyes,” Redskins linebacker Mason Foster said. “He’s going to break that record sooner or later anyways. Everybody knows that. Our big thing is to limit big plays and win the game.”
D.J. Swearinger, who was on the field when Peyton Manning broke the season touchdown-pass record, doesn’t wish to relive that feeling on Monday night in New Orleans. Norm Hall/Getty Images
The Redskins did a solid job against Brees last season — for three quarters, holding him to 202 passing yards. But he finished with 385, throwing for 183 yards in the final quarter and overtime of the Week 11 game as the Saints rallied from a 15-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining to win 34-31.
The Redskins disguised some coverages well enough to take away big plays for most of the game. They also tried to rush with four most of the time, doing so on 32 of his 42 dropbacks. That enabled them to play with seven in coverage. But that defense was banged up, with multiple starters unavailable because of injury. The Redskins’ line is much better with rookie Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, who was one of the players out because of injury last November.
“I couldn’t care less about it,” Redskins corner Quinton Dunbar said of the record. “If we go out there and take care of business and execute and compete, then it won’t happen. Obviously, if it doesn’t, then it means we’re having a great game. But I’m not waking up with stress on my mind, saying, ‘Hey, man, I have to stop Brees from getting .’ No, man, I’m focused on the Washington Redskins.’”
Stopping Brees means controlling his favorite targets, such as receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. Those two combined for 165 yards on 12 catches in last year’s game.
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“You can see on film, if he doesn’t go to his first two targets, he’s going to throw to his checkdown almost blind because he always knows where he is,” Swearinger said. “That’s where a lot of his yards come with Kamara. He turns a 3-yard pass into a 13-yard gain. Drew getting to the checkdown so fast is what makes him different.”
His career total of 71,740 passing yards makes him different, too. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, “Hopefully he doesn’t get it.” But that’s also not his concern — and he knows how hard it is to hold Brees to a low yardage total. He rattled off Brees’ strengths: accuracy, anticipation, pocket skills.
“He gets on his tiptoes and he sees the field extremely well,” Gruden said. “It’s very important for us to disguise our intent and try to get after him as best we can. If he has time to see the field and read what your intent is on defense, he’ll find an open guy. That’s what he’s best at. He gets in unique formations, shows your hand and he gets into the right play.”
Too many right plays, regardless of yardage total, will spoil the Redskins’ night.
“I told the guys we need to do everything we can to stop him from getting 200 yards,” Swearinger said. “It should be real fun. Stay tuned. We’ll be ready.”