One interesting side note from the Saints' impressive 33-18 win over the New York Giants last weekend was the notably improved performance by struggling 3rd year veteran cornerback Ken Crawley; who as Saints fans are well aware has had his share of issues in pass coverage during the team's first 4 games of the 2018 NFL season.
The #Saints CB trio of Ken Crawley, PJ Williams and Marshon Lattimore have given up more TDs in 4 games than they gave up all of last year.
— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) October 2, 2018
Ken Crawley the worst DB in NOLA since Brandon Browner
— flightsnofeelns (@flightsnofeelns) September 30, 2018
After getting torched badly in the team's first 2 games when he allowed a couple of long touchdowns in man-to-man coverage against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns that eventually led to him getting benched and sharply criticized by many within the team's "Who Dat Nation" fan-base , the 25-year old Crawley had his best performance of the year so far when he "limited" Giants #2 WR Sterling Shepard to 77 total receiving yards.
And as noted yesterday by NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune beat writer Josh Katzenstein: as a result, Crawley together with fellow starting CB's Marshon Lattimore and slot CB PJ Williams (filling in for the injured Patrick Robinson), they stepped up their play significantly and with the safeties provided better coverage on the back end, helped lead the defense to its best performance overall thus far.
Crawley, who finished with eight tackles and broke up a pass in the end zone to Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley; told Katzenstein that he and the other members of the embattled Saints secondary think the win over the Giants could've been a confidence-building game.
"We still got to work on it a little bit more, but this is the first step to us climbing back to where we were at (last year)," Crawley said.
"I feel like the guys up front put a scare in the quarterback, rushing him the way they rushed, I know there were some shots there downfield, but he didn't take them."
"Just not letting them get deep shots," Crawley said, was the main objective of the Saints' defensive game plan. "I feel like we managed that, a little bit. With the coverage we were playing, it allowed us not to get the ball thrown over our heads."
As Katzenstein notes: all told, the Saints allowed just two pass played of 20-plus yards vs. New York and their QB Eli Manning after they had given up 14 of them just in the first three games.
But in absolutely no way does it mean that the Saints and Crawley are proverbially "out of the woods yet", and as the Saints began making preparations for next Monday Night and their nationally-televised game against the visiting Washington Redskins, it's fair to ask:
Will we see the "good" Ken Crawley or the "bad" Ken Crawley against the Redskins?
One thing different in this year's match-up is that the Redskins have changed starting QB's, with 14th year veteran QB Alex Smith taking over the reins from Kirk Cousins, who now is the Vikings starting QB in Minnesota.
Smith has had some major success against the Saints in the past, including New Orleans' unforgettable last-second loss in the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoffs when Smith was the starter with San Francisco and beat them on the game's final play.
Smith has made a smooth transition to running the Redskins offense since leaving Kansas City in Free Agency and moving to the nation’s capital — where he has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 767 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception in 96 attempts.
A big key for Smith's early success for the Redskins has been making quick, decisive reads and staying aggressive; and given the additional caveat of Smith's past success against New Orleans, it wouldn't be all that much of a surprise to imagine Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen trying to blitz Smith early and very often in Monday Night's contest.
However should that turn out to be the case, it likely means that Allen will have the Saints playing a lot of man-to-man coverage on the back end of their secondary, since sending additional pass rushers in all likelihood would probably make it more difficult to effectively cover the field with zone coverage.
Even if the Saints do come out playing a lot of zone coverage, essentially it would still leave them in a variation of man-to-man coverage; since they'll be expecting a quick throw or a sack as a direct result of the additional pressure from sending the blitz.
Translation in laymen's terms: Crawley needs to keep doing what he did this past Sunday, and continue the improvement that he showed against New York, by playing well against the Redskins on Monday Night.
Hopefully, Crawley will be ready to redeem himself even more than he did last week; as he likely will be matched up against Redskins #2 WR Josh Doctson.
Entering his third season in 2018, the Redskins were expecting a breakout campaign from Doctson and are still hoping he'll emerge as a true #1 or #2 wide-out, but so far that hasn’t been the case.
In the first 3 games, Doctson has been targeted 13 times but only has made five catches for 48 yards. In Week #3, he was a complete non-factor against the Packers in Washington's win over Green Bay; registering zero catches and leaving many Redskins fans frustrated in the process.
In their one-on-one match-up last year at the Superdome, Crawley held Doctson to 81 receiving yards on 4 catches that included a well-defended PBU (pass break-up) in the end zone — and basically rendered Doctson a non-factor on that day as well.
Bottom line: if the "good" Ken Crawley shows up on Monday Night like he did last week and also like he did against the Redskins last season, the Saints should be in pretty good shape defensively.
But if the "bad" Ken Crawley from the first 2 games of the season shows up, then....
We probably don't really need to tell you the rest.....