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EL-BASHIR: Redskins defense looks very stout, but let's relax just a bit

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EL-BASHIR: Redskins defense looks very stout, but let's relax just a bit

Kirk Cousins managed the offense efficiently and, more important, didn’t commit a turnover in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Rams.

Matt Jones fumbled, but the rookie running back more than made up for his miscue by posting the first 100-yard performance and first two touchdowns of his career.

The special teams units, meanwhile, not only did their job—with a rookie kicker making his NFL debut, no less—they did it well for a change.

But you know what impressed me the most? The defense, which shut out an opponent through two quarters for the first time in four years, then clamped down in the clutch.

Two games into the season, in fact, it can be argued that Joe Barry’s unit has been the team’s most valuable asset. Consider:

*If you subtract Jarvis Landry’s punt return for a touchdown in Week 1, Washington has allowed an average of 10 points—the lowest among teams that have played two games. 

*Yards allowed per game? Yep, that’s tops in the league, as well, after the unit held the Dolphins and Rams to 74 and 67 yards on the ground, respectively.

*Ryan Kerrigan and Co. have limited opponents to a 29.2 percent conversion rate on third downs. That’s fifth best. 

*Although the sack total (fourth/tied for 13th) isn’t much to crow about, it’s not really an accurate reflection of the pass rush's performance. Led by Jason Hatcher’s eight pressures, the unit hurried Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles a combined 19 times, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Indeed, there's a lot to like about the defense and the job Barry has done so far.

“If we can just be sound at what we’re doing and stop the running game and bring pressure when we want to, we’ve got a very diverse system over there,” Head Coach Jay Gruden said before singling out Barry’s scheme for some praise. “It’s rush three, it’s rush four, it’s rush five. Whatever keeps the offense off-balance and the defensive players producing.”

And while there’s no stat for defensive clutch-ness, if there were, Barry’s group would probably rank among the league leaders in that category, too.

When things got a little hairy in the third quarter against the Rams, who had just capitalized on a Jones' fumble and pulled within 17-10, the Redskins were in desperate need of a response.

MORE REDSKINS: Can the Redskins contend for the NFC East title?

And the defense delivered it, right on time, allowing just one first down on the Rams’ next two drives. Washington’s offense then put the game away with a minute-munching, 12-play, 77-yard drive that Jones capped with a three-yard touchdown run.

Afterward, it was apparent that confidence is growing among the defenders.

“Our defense is one of the best defenses in the league, or the best defense in the league,” said defensive end Stephen Paea, who notched his first sack as a Redskin. “If we can play like that—play fast and finish strong—we’ll beat a lot of lot of teams.”

Linebacker Keenan Robinson added: "We are a different team than last year. In the offseason, they did a great job of bringing in guys who would really help this team out right away and help us win right away. We have a great D-line who is really two-deep. We don't have backups and starters on the D-line. We wear the offensive line down and that's how we stop the run. And that helps us on the back end. We worked hand-in-hand, the front end and the back end. That's how we're going to win games."

Like most native Washingtonians, I’m prone to irrational exuberance the day after a Redskins’ victory. So I’m going to rein myself—and this column—in a little bit now.

We’ve seen the defense get off to a hot start before. Just last year, as a matter of fact, I recall similar optimism after Jim Haslett’s defense held the Texans and Jaguars to a combined 20 points (subtracting the punt that was blocked and returned for a score in Houston).

How’d that turn out?

So do yourself a favor. Be excited about the first two weeks. Be optimistic about next 14. Buuuut…wait a few more games before you make any grand pronouncements about this defense.

I definitely will.  

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Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

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Usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, February 23, 19 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The overrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/30/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Yesterday we looked at three events that were underrated at the time they happened. Here, in no particular order, are three overrated events from 2017.

Beating the Raiders—At the time, the Raiders were 2-0 and they still had the status of being one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. The Redskins whipped them 27-10 and the prevailing view was that the Redskins were on their way to a special year. But that loss started a four-game losing streak for the Raiders. They are currently riding a three-game skid and at 6-9 they are contenders for a top-10 draft pick, not for the Super Bowl. The win became less impressive for the Redskins as the year went on.

Signing Terrelle Pryor—There was plenty of excitement when the Redskins signed the Browns wide receiver, who had 1,000 receiving yards catching passes from a sub-mediocre group of quarterbacks in Cleveland. Imagine what he could do with a quality QB and a good offense around him. The hype grew when a fan captured him making this catch in training camp:

But the production was not there. In nine games before going on injured reserve with an ankle injury, Pryor caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Su’a Cravens departure—There was a lot of concern about issues both on and off the field when Cravens abruptly let it be known to teammates that he intended to retire just after the Redskins finalized their 53-man roster on September 2. All offseason Cravens’ name had been written at the top of the depth chart at strong safety in Sharpie. When he walked away and was put on the Exempt/Left Squad list (and eventually on the Reserve/Left Squad list, ending his season), there was plenty of speculation about whether the organization botched the situation and, of more immediate importance, what would happen at safety without Cravens. We’re still not sure about what happened but Montae Nicholson and Deshazor Everett did a respectable job at safety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 6
—NFL Draft (4/26) 62
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 198

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Need to Know: The most underrated Redskins events of 2017

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usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The most underrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, February 22, 20 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The underrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/29/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Here, in no particular order, are three underrated events from 2017. Tomorrow we’ll look at three events that were overrated at the time they happened.  

Beating the Rams in Week 2—Nobody got particularly excited when the Redskins went to the LA Memorial Coliseum and beat a Rams team that had gone 4-12 in 2016. Sure, there was a belief that they were in good hands with Sean McVay but nobody saw them as anything better than a middle of the pack team. The win looks much more impressive now as the 11-4 Rams have locked up their division with a playoff game in their future.

Drafting safety Montae Nicholson—He was a fourth-round pick who had a shoulder injury and appeared to be a reach. But once he got on the field, the reasons the Redskins drafted him became apparent. His range and hard hitting had an immediate impact on the game. Nicholson had problems staying on the field and he will finish the year on IR, so his impact this year was diminished. Regardless, he has a good chance of being part of the solution to a position with which the Redskins have had issues for years.

Ty Nsekhe’s injury—Against the Raiders in Week 3, Shawn Lauvao’s facemask had an issue and he had to leave the game for a play. In came Nsekhe without an opportunity to warm up. He suffered a core muscle injury and had to undergo surgery. His absence didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but Trent Williams suffered a knee injury the next week and other offensive linemen were sidelined with injuries over the next several weeks. Nsekhe was inactive until the Week 10 game against the Vikings and he didn’t start a game until the Thanksgiving game against the Giants. He sure would have been useful to have in the lineup instead of T.J. Clemmings or Tyler Catalina.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 7
—NFL Draft (4/26) 63
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 199