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Redskins' Cousins to be tested by Saints' shut-down defense

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins runs onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the ways Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has tried to improve his game is by studying his New Orleans counterpart, Drew Brees.

"I've just always admired his career going back to his days at Purdue — the way he has handled adversity, the way he's carried himself with class, the consistent production year in and year out," Cousins said of Brees. "He's just been a consistent force there for the Saints. I love his game and the way he plays and I've been able to learn a lot from him, just from a distance, watching film and studying his game."

This Sunday, Cousins and the up-and-down Redskins (4-5) will have to outperform Brees and the streaking Saints (7-2) if Washington is to pull back to .500 and set itself up for a playoff push.

While the Saints, to a large extent, have ridden a surging running game and dramatically improved defense to seven straight victories, Cousins still has found watching Brees instructive this season. When the Saints have needed Brees to come through with a clutch throw, he usually has , completing a league-best 71.7 percent of his passes so far this season.

"He's got great accuracy. He sees the field well, has good athleticism, moves around well, avoids sacks, completes a lot of passes," Cousins said. "You do try to pattern your game after great players like that."

Brees and Cousins both took part in the Pro Bowl last season. This season, they are both in the top six in the NFL in yards passing through Week 10. Cousins ranks third with 2,474 yards passing, while Brees ranks sixth with 2,398 yards.

Saints coach Sean Payton said he has noted Cousins' ability to attack defenses with passes of 20 yards or more.

"They stretch the field vertically," Payton said. "I also see someone that epitomizes a competitor. You see someone where there is a feistiness about him, a toughness about him. I think it's contagious with his teammates."

Speaking of feisty, the Saints' defense — among the NFL's worst past three seasons — has been among the NFL's best during the past two months. New Orleans has held five of its past seven opponents to less than 300 total yards and two teams to less than 200. Comprised mostly of players not with the Saints before 2016, the unit also has 25 sacks and 10 interceptions.

"They're getting after the quarterback, batting a lot of passes down at the line of scrimmage. It seems that their secondary is covering very well," Cousins said. "They're creating confusion. They're changing up their looks and just kind of creating chaos, and that's what good defenses do."

Here are some other story lines entering the Redskins-Saints matchup in the Superdome:

EMBRACING BALANCE: Brees' passing attempts and yards are on pace to be about as low as any of his seasons in New Orleans, but he's fine with that.

The Saints went 7-9 last season, when Brees led the NFL in passing. A more balanced offense and better defense has New Orleans atop the NFC South.

"I like the formula that we've been using so far," Brees said. "I hope we sustain that."

NORMAN KNOWS BREES: Washington cornerback Josh Norman, a former Carolina Panther, faces Brees for the first time with the Redskins. He expects "old, wily Drew" to present the same kind of challenges he did against him in five previous meetings as NFC South rivals.

"The thing about Drew is he knows you somewhat better than you know yourself at times," Norman said. "It's kind of crazy how he manipulates a defense just by looking off, pump-faking and coming back to knowing the spot he wants to hit."

RUNNING WILD: After piling up 298 yards rushing last week in a 47-10 victory at Buffalo, the Saints' running game ranks third, while New Orleans ranks fifth in yards passing. Rarely has the Saints running game outranked their passing attack since Brees joined forces with Payton, who designs the offense, in 2006.

Rookie running back Alvin Kamara said New Orleans' offensive line has been dominant.

"It's exciting and it's fun to be able to be a part of that," Kamara said, adding that on a number of runs, "it's like 5 yards before I'm even getting touched."

CLUBBING IT: The Redskins have lost so much depth along the defensive line that they could really use the return of Matt Ioannidis from a broken hand. The second-year lineman out of Temple has been practicing with what Gruden called a "nice club" on the hand, but should be able to play.

"Hopefully uses that to his advantage," Gruden said. "It'll be like 'The Longest Yard.'"

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Ashburn, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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