The Redskins made headlines two weeks ago by benching cornerback Josh Norman. A former All Pro carrying a $15 million price tag, sitting Norman was a bold move by interim head coach Bill Callahan, and for two weeks, it's paid off.
Washington beat Carolina on Sunday for their second straight win, and despite two early touchdowns from the Panthers, the Redskins defense played some of their best football. Greg Manusky's group gave up only 213 yards through the air and generated two turnovers. For the second straight week, cornerback Fabian Moreau grabbed an interception and nearly got a second.
Moreau is the biggest benefactor of Norman's benching.
A slot corner previously, with Norman on the pine, Moreau gets to play outside. With long arms and a long stride, Moreau seems better suited to play on the outside than he did in the slot. The results support that theory, as Moreau has three interceptions in the last two games after getting just one interception in the previous two years.
In fact, with Norman out, the Redskins are relying more on Moreau and rookie Jimmy Moreland. Quinton Dunbar has maintained his sturdy play opposite Moreau. At 27, Dunbar is the veteran of the group, but he's on a modest contract signed at $4.5 million for 2020.
Moreau and Moreland are still on their rookie deals, and if they can prove to be capable the rest of this season, would project to start in 2020. A 7th-round draft pick, Moreland will cost $600,000 in 2020. A 3rd-round pick in 2017, Moreau will be in the final year of his contract and making nearly $1 million.
Those three players on those three contracts could present tremendous value for Washington. Combined in 2020, Dunbar, Moreau and Moreland would cost the Redskins about $6 million. That's $9 million less than what Norman is slated to make in the final year of his five-year, $75 million deal he signed with the Redskins in 2016, if the team doesn't release him this offseason. That pending move seems more obvious by the day.
Callahan has been impressed by the youth movement in the secondary.
"I think they're getting challenged," the coach said. "Fabian has come up big a couple times, Dunbar continues to play better. Jimmy Moreland is playing the slot. They're still learning, they're still trying to figure out some things."
It's worth pointing out that the new Redskins secondary, without Norman, has faced backup quarterbacks in both contests on their two-game win streak. Jeff Driskel and Kyle Allen are not future Hall of Famers.
But at the same time, the Redskins struggled against plenty of uneven quarterbacks this season, and that was with Norman. Bears QB Mitch Trubisky hit three touchdowns on Washington in Week 3, and Jets QB Sam Darnold went for four TDs and nearly 300 yards against Washington in Week 11.
Don't expect Norman to regain his starting spot anytime soon, and that means the trio of Moreland, Moreau and Dunbar will face their biggest test of the year on Sunday. The Redskins travel to take on Green Bay, and that means QB Aaron Rodgers.
Callahan said that his group better fix all their mistakes before the game starts at fabled Lambeau Field.
"There were a couple coverages that we weren't too pleased with that we know we can go back to work and fix and get better at," the coach said. "We're going to have to fix them quickly, because we're facing the premier quarterback in the league on Sunday."
The youth movement in the secondary meets one of the best to ever sling it. Should be fun to watch.
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