At long last, the Washington Football Team's defense has found its stride. Since coming back from the bye, the unit has allowed just 19, 21 and 15 points in three games, totals that are far different from what it was ceding through most of September and October.
The defense's improved performance has, strangely enough, come as two of its foundational pieces suffered injuries. Chase Young tore his ACL early on in the club's first post-bye outing, while Montez Sweat broke his jaw back before the break and hasn't suited up since.
Because the better play and the absences of Young and Sweat have basically occurred together, one could wonder if the change at both defensive end spots is contributing to more success in limiting opponents' offenses.
Jonathan Allen is doing no such wondering.
"We're not going to say we're better without them than with them, that would just be silly to say," Allen told reporters on Thursday.
It's no secret that Young and Sweat were underwhelming during their time together this year, especially after an offseason where they expressed a desire to set an outrageous record. Ron Rivera even called them out in a story on the team's website where he asked for more disciplined play, especially out of Young.
Between the two of them, they have just 5.5 sacks so far, a number that'll grow when Sweat returns yet also fall far, far short of what was expected from the pair. As for their backups, the theory goes that players like Casey Toohill, James Smith-Williams and Shaka Toney are more inclined to do what they're coached to do seeing as they're less gifted and not nearly as well regarded as the first-rounders they're replacing.
But in his press conference, Allen credited something else for his side of the ball's stronger efforts, something that is more grounded than the notion that Young and Sweat were holding the overall group back.
"As the season goes on, you get more comfortable, you get used to playing with each other, guys' roles are more defined," he said. "You just get better. I think that has more to do with it than losing Chase and Sweat."
That feels more reasonable, doesn't it?
On Wednesday, Bobby McCain expressed a similar line of thinking when discussing why the Burgundy and Gold's secondary specifically has been more sound in recent contests. Like Allen, McCain explained how it can take a handful of weeks for everyone's jobs to come into focus, and when that clarity arrives, it's crucial.
Don't overlook how Taylor Heinicke, Antonio Gibson and their comrades are affecting Allen and Co., by the way. Heinicke's gotten a lot smarter with the ball, while Gibson and the rushing attack are gobbling up time of possession. Those are factors that positively influence the whole squad.
Consider how Washington navigated 2020, too. The defense sputtered in the first couple of months much like it did this time around before settling in and being more sharp. Young and Sweat, by the way, were very much a part of that turnaround.
Examining what's gone right for Washington's defense during its winning streak is absolutely a worthwhile exercise. Attributing the uptick to a lineup that's without Young and Sweat, however, probably is not.