The Redskins’ defense likely will continue to be viewed with some degree of scorn after they let a 14-0 second-quarter lead slip away against the Vikings.
They probably will stay ranked around the bottom-middle of the pack in points allowed and yards against. Some fans this week will again call for coordinator Joe Barry’s job.
But if you don’t realize that the defense deserves a ton of the credit for the Redskins’ 5-3-1 record and their position in the thick of things in the NFC wild card picture you haven’t been paying attention.
The smart observer will note that the Vikings’ touchdown just before halftime came after a Chris Thompson fumble set the Vikings up with just 33 yards to go for the touchdown. And that the Vikings didn’t score at all in the second half. And with the offense unable to get the ball in the end zone in the second half it was the defense that came up with the big plays.
Preston Smith gave the offense a short field with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter with his first career interception and ensuing 22-yard return.
Then after the Redskins were forced to settle for a field goal they snuffed out Minnesota’s last chance with two sacks of Sam Bradford. Trent Murphy got the first one and then on fourth-and-17 with the line of scrimmage at the Redskins’ 28 with 11 seconds left Smith blew through and nailed Bradford to finish it off.
“We shut them out in the second half and that’s big,” said Gruden. “And the big drive at the end of the game, to get the stop . . . Credit the defense. They did a great job hanging with us, sticking with the plan, and not getting too down on each other, making good sound tackles and did a good job.
Smith, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last year, had just 1.5 sacks in the first half of the season and he had no part in any takeaways. Against the Vikings he had a sack early in the game to go with the fourth-down sack and the big interception.
Gruden indicated that the coaches were growing somewhat impatient with Smith’s slow start to the season.
“We’ve been riding Preston pretty hard, quite frankly,” said Gruden. “We’ve all expected so much from Preston because he’s such a big, good-looking player. Today he answered the bell, he really did.”
A rushing defense that has been porous most of the year held Minnesota to an average of just 2.2 yards on 21 rushing attempts. Sam Bradford had a good day passing, especially when he targeted former Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs (13 receptions, 164 yards). But they were patient against Bradford, who had thrown only one interception all year. When the opportunity came for the pick, Smith grabbed it.
So now the Redskins have held their opponents to 20 points or fewer in five of their last six games. In their four wins in that span they held the other team to a total of 15 points in the second half.
If they keep doing that, nobody will care if they don’t look like a dominant D when looking at the stats.