Even after the Redskins had won two games in a row to start recovering from their 0-2 start, defensive coordinator Joe Barry was still under fire. The defense had remained very suspect with the most glaring problem being third downs. Opponents were converting 56 percent of the time on third down, the worst money down performance in the league by a substantial margin.
Two weeks later the Redskins are still winning and there isn’t as much noise about the defense, primarily because they have been getting the job done on third downs. That has helped the defensive give up just one touchdown in the last two games. In those two games the Redskins have allowed 24 percent of third downs to be converted.
Where are the Redskins doing better on third down? For one thing, the other team has further to go to get a first down. During the first four weeks of the season the average distance to go on third down was 7.25 yards. The last two weeks the average has been 9.0. The difference of nearly two yards affects play selection, taking a lot of plays out of consideration. That makes it easier to defend.
And passes that were finding their way to the hands of receivers are no longer getting there. In the first four games the Redskins allowed 33 of 40 passes to be completed, a sizzling (or pathetic, depending on which side you view it from) 82.5 percent rate. Passers were enjoying a passer rating of 122.5.
In the last two games it’s been a different story. The Redskins have allowed 11 completions on 20 attempts on third downs, a 55 percent rate. The passer rating against them has been a very pedestrian 80.2.
The Redskins are still ranked as one of the worst third-down defenses in the league. They are 30th at 45.9 percent. Two games is a small sample size and it’s difficult to improve your season stats significantly in such a short span. There is no guarantee that they will keep it up going forward. In fact, it’s very unlikely that 24 percent conversions is sustainable. But if they can settle in to somewhere in the 35 to 40 percent range that would work just fine.