The Redskins do not have what anyone would call a dominant defense. They are last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry. Despite recent improvement they still are 30th in the league in opposition third-down conversions. But, somehow, they have managed to keep the opposing team out of the end zone in the second half of each of their last four games and have allowed only one touchdown in their last 10 quarters.
One of the things that they are doing right is not allowing many big plays. They have given up only four plays that gained 30 yards or more. Only the Vikings, who have one of the top defenses in the league, have allowed fewer such plays.
To compare, there have been 277 plays of 30+ yards this year, so the average team has given up 8.6 long plays this year. Last year through six games the Redskins had given up 13 long plays.
Last Sunday in the fourth quarter the Eagles’ Carson Wentz threw to Jordan Matthews for 54 yards. That was first play to gain more than 50 yards against the Redskins all year. The Patriots are now the only team that has not given up a 50+ yard play.
Taking away the long play forces offenses to steadily drive down the field. Each snap in a drive increases the possibility of a drive-killing mistake like a penalty, a dropped pass, or a turnover.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry had a simple explanation for the team’s ability to take away what he calls explosive play.
“When we have gotten hurt it's because of missed tackles, we've talked about that especially in the run game,” he said. “We preach, let's not beat ourselves. Let's not give them anything, make them earn everything.”
Another factor has been an improved secondary, the last line of defense.
“We've been very consistent not only have good young players but also veteran guys that understand football,” said Barry. “Even though Will Blackmon is playing a new position, he's played a lot of football. Same thing with Donte [Whitner] coming in here, brand new to the system, he's still hearing things on a daily basis that are still new to him but he's a football player. He's played a ton of football, so that helps in that regard.”
In addition to the field position gained, big plays are often momentum swingers. If the Redskins can keep preventing other teams from getting explosive plays they can go a long way towards becoming a solid unit.
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