Late-game stops now team’s hall­mark

While worst on third down, de­fense stands up in vi­tal sit­u­a­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

ASHBURN | Fend­ing off ques­tions about Wash­ing­ton’s worst-in-the-NFL third down de­fense, Red­skins de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Barry brought the sub­ject back to the ba­sics.

“The bot­tom line is points,” he said.

Give up fewer points than you score is the name of the game, Barry con­tended, and his de­fense has been able to do that in the most cru­cial sit­u­a­tions this sea­son. Six out of seven times the Red­skins kept an op­po­nent from tak­ing the lead late in the fourth quar­ter or over­time, a ma­jor rea­son they’re still in the play­off race with three games left.

Coach Jay Gru­den “preaches ‘master the sit­u­a­tion all the time,”’ line­backer Ma­son Fos­ter said. “He chal­lenges us each and ev­ery week to master the sit­u­a­tions and when we do a good job at it, we usu­ally get the ‘W.’ When we mess it up or break down in those sit­u­a­tions we usu­ally lose . ... We know what it takes.”

With a show­down against Cam New­ton and the de­fend­ing NFC cham­pion Carolina Pan­thers (5-8) on Mon­day night, the Red­skins (7-5-1) would like to im­prove their de­fense on third down, which now ranks 31st in the league, and in the red zone, which is 29th. Those are sit­u­a­tions Gru­den and Barry would also love to “master.”

But late-game stops have be­come a hall­mark of Wash­ing­ton’s de­fense, which fal­tered only in a loss to Detroit when Barry and the coach­ing staff rushed three against Matt Stafford and the Li­ons. The de­fense held in twice tie against the Cincin­nati Ben­gals and once each in vic­to­ries over the New York Giants, Bal­ti­more Ravens, Min­nesota Vik­ings and Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

Ques­tions about the de­fense get­ting the nec­es­sary stop were so pointed that some won­dered if run­ning back Chris Thomp­son should’ve taken a knee at the 1-yard line Sun­day in Philadel­phia to run out the clock rather than scor­ing a touch­down and

putting the Ea­gles’ of­fense back on the field. Car­son Wentz led the be­gin­nings of a game-win­ning drive be­fore a sack fum­ble by line­backer Ryan Ker­ri­gan as the Red­skins showed once again they could de­liver with the game on the line.

“They played good when it mat­tered and that’s im­por­tant,” Gru­den said. “Over­all our de­fense hung in there, stuck with the plan and made plays when they had to.”

Play­ers said the mes­sage in the hud­dle late in the Ea­gles game was about per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. The al­ready-de­pleted de­fense was miss­ing lineback­ers Will Comp­ton (knee) and Su’a Cravens (el­bow) and safety Will Black­mon (con­cus­sion), who could be out again Mon­day against Carolina.

Cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man, who was an All-Pro last year with the Pan­thers, wants the Red­skins to dis­play an edge in late-game sit­u­a­tions.

“At the end of the day you just got to have that ‘want to’ in you,” Nor­man said. “When a guy crosses your face and you tell him that, ‘You’re not go­ing to beat me’ and if he does, there’s go­ing to be a prob­lem. If you do get a penalty for be­ing ag­gres­sive, at least it was an ag­gres­sive penalty. It wasn’t like they don’t run over you. No, smack them in the mouth.”

Smack­ing the ball out of op­po­nents’ hands has been a strength of the de­fense, which ranks sixth with 22 forced fum­bles. Only re­cov­er­ing seven be­fore Ker­ri­gan’s game-sav­ing play was a point of con­tention, es­pe­cially as Gru­den pointed to a lack of forc­ing turnovers as a rea­son for back-to-back losses at Dal­las and Ari­zona.


The Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ Bashaud Bree­land (26), Matthew Ioan­ni­dis (98) and Ricky Jean Fran­cois take down Philadel­phia Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz in the sec­ond half on Sun­day. The Red­skins kept an op­po­nent from tak­ing the lead late in the fourth quar­ter or over­time six of seven times this sea­son.

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