In the first two weeks of the season, the Redskins gave up 38 second-half points. In the last two weeks, the Redskins gave up nine second-half points. Considering that, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that Washington lost the first two games and won the last two.
After dropping to 0-2, Redskins coach Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Joe Barry took a lot of critisicm for a lack of second-half adjustments. Perhaps the problems were most obvious in the season opening loss to Pittsburgh, where the 'Skins made hardly any changes and proceeded to give up two fourth quarter TDs.
In Week 2, Barry and the defense began to show flexibility. While early in the game Josh Norman did not shadow Dez Bryant in coverage, by the fourth quarter against Dallas, the Skins best corner was in man coverage against the Cowboys star receiver.
By Week 3, Washington's second half defense began to make plays. The Redskins twice intercepted Eli Manning in the game's last 30 minutes, including a last minute pick from rookie Su'a Cravens to seal the win. Barry's unit only gave up six points - two field goals - in the second half in New York, compared to 21 points before halftime.
In the latest game against Cleveland, the 'Skins defense had a terrible second quarter. The unit gave up 17 points in 15 minutes, allowing a winless Browns team to tie the game before halftime. But again, in the second half, Washington's defense made plays, forcing two fumbles and Josh Norman grabbed an interception.
This is not an essay to describe the greatness of Washington's defense. The unit has clear problems, especially stopping the run, but it's worth pointing out that the organization appears to have come up with a strategy that makes gains in the second half. Defensive captain Will Compton talked about the defensive playmaking in the second half after the win over the Browns.
"We showed up when we needed to, had three big turnovers in the second half," Compton said. "We needed that. We needed those big plays. We still have a long way to go, a lot to correct, but we showed up when we needed to."
During the Redskins two-game win streak, turnovers have played a huge role in the defense's second half success. That may or may not be sustainable, but it's not something born entirely out of luck. The Redskins practice forcing fumbles and looking for interceptions, every day, every practice.
"One thing Joe B [Barry] over-emphasized was we have to make turnovers, we have to make turnovers," defensive end Ricky Jean François said on Sunday. "It doesn’t matter what the situation, we have to make turnovers because those turnovers may just help us out. We cash out on one of them and not three but six, that makes a hell of a different ballgame."
The Redskins lead the league in forced fumbles over the last 20 games, and forcing turnovers has fueled the current win streak. It's hard to think that's an accident.
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