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Key matchup: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III vs. Saints MLB Curtis Lofton

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By Eric Edholm

In Thursday’s key matchup, PFW’s Eric Edholm focuses on the battle between Robert Griffin III and Curtis Lofton in Sunday’s Redskins-Saints game.

Matchup of the day: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III vs. Saints MLB Curtis Lofton

The emotion in the Superdome might not be quite as high as it was in the post-Katrina game in 2006 or the NFC championship game in 2010, but it won’t be too far behind. The fans will be loud and proud for their Saints, who were branded Enemies No. 1 this offseason by the NFL. That’s the noise factor that Griffin will face in his first regular-season start.

Griffin has been good, not great, in the preseason, but smart observers will point out that neither did Cam Newton one year ago, and Newton was OK in his regular-season debut: 422 passing yards against the Cardinals. And it’s to Newton that Griffin is most often (unfairly) compared, so there’s that pressure as well.

But that’s beyond the X’s and O’s. On the one hand, the fact that Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had six months to prepare for Griffin is a bad thing for the rookie’s chances. On the other hand, how much quality tape has Spagnuolo had to watch? The Redskins kept it vanilla during the preseason, and Griffin only teased us with his running ability.

The Saints’ scheme should be fairly similar even with the coordinator switch from Gregg Williams. And really, they should be in similar shape with Lofton playing the role previously held down by suspended MLB Jonathan Vilma. Lofton might be the better run stopper and less effective in space, but he has worked hard in that facet of his game.

Lofton this week said the Saints need to pressure Griffin. They will. They’ll come after him with a series of four-, five- and six-man zone and man pressures, as Spagnuolo likes to show different looks and try to overwhelm rookie quarterbacks. He wants to have them processing more information about what the defense is doing than what Griffin’s own assignments are. It will be, if things go the Saints’ way, overwhelming.

But Lofton must guard against the zone running series and the options the Redskins can run off of it. You can be sure Griffin will bootleg away from run action and get into space. The Saints’ linebackers and secondary must not fall for that fake and give Griffin the space he needs either to throw or do damage with his legs in the open field.

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