Defense is the Redskins Identity; An Alabama State of Mind
Welcome back to The Burgundy and Gold Report. This season has been one of the strongest in recent memory. Fans have seen Washington thwart two last minute comebacks in consecutive weeks. Against Carolina, the Redskins defense held quarterback Cam Newton in check for three quarters, they were up by 17, only to watch the Panthers cut the lead to six. The Panthers marched all the way down to the Redskins 16 yard line only to be stopped on a 4th down, pass break-up.
This past week, the Redskins experienced another nail biter with the Cowboys. Once again, it was a “bend don’t break” fourth quarter for the Redskins’ defense. This time, Washington blew a ten point lead only to watch Dallas miss the game tying field goal with only seconds remaining. In consecutive wins the defense has dominated, only to watch the offense blow scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity in the red zone. Other than Adrian Peterson, this Redskins’ defense has put the team on their back, creating turnovers game after game. The defense finally converted a turnover for a touchdown with Kerrigan’s strip sack which resulted in a Preston Smith fumble recovery for a touchdown. Without that timely turnover the Skins probably wouldn’t have won the game.
The Defensive Line
Washington has always had the flare for the dramatics and the defense usually held this team back, but this year’s defense just seems different. The Redskins have dedicated two consecutive first round picks to the defensive side of the ball. More specifically, they focused on the defensive line, drafting Alabama teammates John Allen & Daron Payne. The duo has brought an Alabama mentality and work ethic to the Redskins. Losing is foreign to former Crimson Tide players who are used to being in the College Football National Championship year in and year out. The two have started to build a reputation as maulers who must be accounted for at all times.
Veteran lineman Matt “The Greek Freak “ Ioannidis has been the forgotten man considering he averages less than 40% of the defensive snaps on the year. Even with reduced playing time, Ioannidis is in a three way tie for the team lead in sacks with 3. The former Temple Owl has embraced his new role as a sub-package lineman and has dominated the line of scrimmage all year. Although his first round counterparts get all the attention, Ioannidis is much more than just a space eater. The tape shows a relentless motor and on one play versus Dallas he threw Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot to the ground like a rag doll during a failed chip block attempt.
The evolution of the interior pass rush has become the centerpiece of NFL defenses. Dominant defensive lineman, such as Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Geno Atkins are the new breed of athletic interior lineman who rarely come out of games. Former Redskin tight end and Cooley At The Park podcast host, Chris Cooley put it best when describing the importance of having versatile defensive lineman.
“Interior pass rush is really becoming the most coveted thing defensively in the NFL because it’s hard to handle.”
Cooley was on point with his assessment. Since the upgrades were made, most of the Redskins’ pressures have come from the center of the defensive line. Drawing timely holding penalties has also helped this defense succeed. What stands out about this group compared to years past is how they beat double teams. The trio has put this defense on their back.
The way this group rushes the quarterback by flowing to the ball in unison, even with defenders draped all over them, is impressive. The Crimson Tide duo, along with Ioannidis, have accounted for 8 total sacks. This unit is constantly blowing up blockers and disrupting offensive rhythm, causing game changing outcomes. Allen is quickly becoming the leader of this Washington front line. Minutes after the Dallas win, during a locker room interview he was asked how he felt. His brief response went a long way in beginning to understand his mind set.
“Its feels great, but it’s on to New York”
The Linebackers and Defensive Backs
The Redskins outside linebackers have benefited from the improved play along the defensive line, but really debuted their skills against Dallas. Kerrigan had a key strip sack on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, which was promptly scooped up and run in from the goal line for Preston Smith’s first career touchdown. It’s been evident that Kerrigan has been held on most of his rushes, but finally put it all together last week and was an important cog in the Redskins’ victory.
The inside linebackers also put it all together versus Dallas, featured by Zach Brown who led the team in tackles. Brown was primarily used on run downs deployed as a spy to shadow Prescott and Elliot. On passing down, tweener linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons relieved Brown and was also deployed in ta similar role to Brown. The former Louisville linebacker has been a nice change up for Brown who has more range in coverage than is fellow linebackers.
Washington’s defensive backs played sound coverage versus Dallas as they’ve done in the previous wins. Arguably, one of the most important players to this defense has been seventh year safety DJ Swearinger. At this point in the season, Swearinger has to be mentioned among the best at the position. His stats on the year don’t tell the full story of his impact (2 ints 1 sack 2 FF). In consecutive games Swearinger made a game changing forced fumble on the quarterback. His partner in crime, second year safety Montae Nicholson, has had an up and down performance, but his size and athleticism compliment Swearinger’s abilities. Putting it all together during the second half of the season will be key for Nicholson. With Dunbar out, backup safety Deshazor Everett has even been used more on passing downs as an extra defensive back.
Which brings us to the cornerbacks. As previously mentioned, Dunbar’s injury has opened the door for others. Slot corner Fabian Moreau has moved to the outside on base formations. He has made plays and fans should expect to see more. Norman had another decent game versus Dallas in coverage in which he wasn’t challenged often. He stayed disciplined in his assignments and for the most part took care of his side of the field.
The youngster from Va Tech Greg Stroman finally got an opportunity with the starters against Dallas. He did bite on a double move which resulted in a long touchdown pass for Dallas. I’ve yet to see a rookie defensive back not fall for a double move, so my level of concern is low for the Hokie. With Dunbar likely to miss at least another week, rookies Danny Johnson & Adonis Alexander will also get an opportunity to contribute to this high octane defense.
The teams work ethic on defense has shown on the field. In previous seasons the offense carried this team, but Washington looks primed to go into New York and stifle Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense.
Written By Adam Aniba
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