This past Sunday, the Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants 20-13 to improve to 5-2 and stay in first place in the NFC East. Quarterback Alex Smith and the offense have still struggled to find itself. The 33-year-old Adrian Peterson has kept the offensive afloat and he alone cannot keep the Redskins in games. But that is where the defense comes in. For the first time in a long time, the Skins have a dominant defense that has kept them in games. They have been the key to their three-game win streak as well as any chance they have of winning the division.
Last year the Redskins ranked last in rushing yards allowed with 134.1 This year through the halfway point the Skins are second with 80.1 rushing yards allowed per game. Washington has made some of the top running backs obsolete this year. In their three-game win streak, they have shut down Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliot, and Saquon Barkley. They also suffocated David Johnson, and Alvin Kamara. The most yards they have allowed to a running back this year has been 53.
It all starts with the front line which Washington has dedicated the draft to the past two years. In 2017 they selected defensive end Jonathan Allen in the first round out of Alabama. In 2018 the Skins used their first-round pick on nose tackle Da’Ron Payne, also out of Alabama. Payne and Allen had won a college championship together. The biggest surprise is 2016 fifth-round pick, defensive end, Matt Ioannidis. Ioannidis was waived in 2016 but Washington ended up re-signing him to the practice squad a few days later.
In 2017 Ioannidis was given a chance to prove himself due to injuries. He recorded a then-career-high in sacks with 4.5. He also played through a broken hand. This year he leads the team in sacks with 5.5 which is also a career high. Ioannidis had a career-high 2.5 on Sunday against Eli Manning.
All three players are 24 and under. Since the arrival of Payne, teams have been forced to double team one of the three which is allowing the other two as well as the linebackers to get to the quarterback with ease. Washington ranks 10th in the league in sacks with 21. They sacked Eli Manning seven times on Sunday, a season high.
Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan was off to a slow start but has started to look like his 2017 self. Through the first three weeks, he had zero sacks. Since the bye week, Kerrigan has 4.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble against Dallas, which teammate Preston Smith recovered in the end zone for the game deciding touchdown. Mason Foster is having a career year and leads the team in tackles with 64. Zach Brown resigned with the team in the off season for three years. Brown led the team in tackles last year and is second this year. The combination of Brown and Mason has given opposing running backs zero room to navigate.
Josh Harvey-Clemons has filled in nicely as a hybrid linebacker. He recorded his first full sack on Sunday to end a Giants drive. When needed Clemons has been able to come in for Brown and help stop the run as well as drop back to cover receivers. He is filling the role the front office expected Su’a Cravens to have.
The linebacker core has helped plug up the run as well as played a pivotal role in applying pressure in opposing quarterbacks.
Washington’s secondary is the weak spot of the defense and that is saying something. The defense is led by safety and captain, D.J. Swearinger who leads the league in interceptions with four. He had two this past Sunday against Eli Manning and is having a career year. Washington ranks 13th in the league in passing yards allowed with 242.3 per game. Josh Norman has gotten worse and an injury to Quinton Dunbar hurts but it could be worse.
Washington’s secondary is full of young talent that needs a year or two to develop before they can really contribute. Corners Greg Stroman (22), and Fabian Moreau (24), are in their first and second years respectively. Safety Montae Nicholson (22), was drafted in the fourth round in 2017. Being allowed to learn under Josh Norman and D.J. Swearinger will allow for these three to grow and develop. Thanks to the pass rush, the secondary has been allowed to make plays and besides the Saints game, have kept opposing receivers under control. This young core will need to do the same as they have Julio Jones in town later this week. They will also have to face Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins later this year. Those three games will really test the Redskins’ secondary and will be pivotal games in their path to the NFC East crown.
Featured Image From TSN.