Late-game stops now team’s hallmark
While worst on third down, defense stands up in vital situations
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.