Starting back in the summer at training camp, members of the Redskins defense expressed a desire to be dominant.
“Being some badasses,” was the mindset Jonathan Allen came up with. “Simple as that.”
And so far in 2018, they have been — as long as their opponents are incapable of consistently beating them through the air.
A year after finishing as the NFL’s worst-ranked rushing defense, Washington did everything it could to ensure there’d be no repeat of that this time around.
That’s why the ‘Skins drafted Daron Payne and Tim Settle, re-signed Zach Brown and Mason Foster and eagerly awaited the return of Allen. And together, the group has rebounded extremely well, as they currently check in as the fifth-best run-stopping unit.
In a Week 5 meeting with the burgundy and gold, Ezekiel Elliott had one of his worst-ever performances, going for just 33 yards. Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley failed to top 40 yards on the ground. In Week 1, David Johnson was ineffective.
Not surprisingly, those efforts all ended in wins for Jay Gruden’s squad and they were all praised as they should’ve been.
But there’s also a common link between them: None of those running backs were part of offenses that featured dangerous, united passing attacks.
Sure, McCaffrey lines up behind the talented Cam Newton, but Newton’s top receiver is, as it turns out, McCaffrey. Barkley, as another example, shares the field with outside threats Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, yet the guy throwing them the ball is a shell of a shell of himself.
But when the Redskins have been tasked with stopping a star QB and dynamic pass-catchers, the results have been ugly.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees completed 89-percent of his passes for 363 yards on Washington’s D and also tossed three scores. This past week, Matt Ryan racked up 350 yards for four TDs on Greg Manusky’s side.
Both of those matchups resulted in 24-point losses.
Even in the ‘Skins’ other loss this season, Andrew Luck and TY Hilton were able to connect when they needed to, especially late. While their numbers aren’t as gaudy as the results against Brees or Ryan, the point remains that Washington is flawed versus top passing attacks.
So do the team stats. The Redskins are ninth in points allowed and, as already pointed out, top-five at limiting RBs. But they’re just 20th in pass yards allowed per game and 22nd in opposing passer rating per game.
Now, there’s reason to hope things get better in the second half of the year.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s addition should make the secondary deeper as long as he can get comfortable quickly. Ryan Kerrigan is heating up, meanwhile, and perhaps Preston Smith can, too, which would increase the pressure on opposing signal callers.
They also still have dates with opponents that have similar styles to ones they’ve already beaten. The Titans, Texans and Jags rank in the bottom-half when it comes to moving the ball with the pass and rematches with the Cowboys and Giants remain as well. Plenty of potential wins are out there.
And lastly, the Redskins are of course not the only ones that have issues holding down experienced QBs who are picking between a slew of dynamic targets on every play. In-depth analysis alert: it’s hard to do that.
But if this version of the Redskins defense wants to elevate the franchise to the playoffs and contend there, they must avoid meltdowns like the ones with the Saints and Falcons.
A solid defense can look strong one week against lesser competition, but elite defenses can shut down anyone. The Redskins haven’t shown that latter ability yet.
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