In 2017, the Redskins went 1-5 against their NFC East foes.
Then in the offseason they saw the Giants draft Saquon Barkley, giving New York an explosive running back that matched what the Cowboys have in Ezekiel Elliott. The Eagles, meanwhile, finished third in the league in rushing last season and won that little thing people refer to as the Super Bowl.
So, Washington's objective was obvious: Get better inside of the division, which meant adding pieces and constructing a defense that could hold up vs. the run.
Well, let's call the group's first test against a rival a total success. The defense silenced Elliott all day in Washington's 20-17 Week 7 victory over Dallas, and it all started up front.
"I don't think there's any doubt," Jay Gruden said at the podium when asked if this was the defensive line's best performance in 2018. "Not only were they stopping the run but they had to rush the passer there nonstop at the end of the game. Did some great things, man. I'm happy as heck to see them play like that."
Josh Norman was quick to credit the 'Skins' D-line as well. He also understands how the assembly of that particular bunch matters for where this franchise is trying to go.
"We draft here for the opponents we face," Norman told reporters in the locker room. "If you don't win in the trenches out here in this division, you're not winning many football games. That's the end of the story. If you don't have beef up front, because of the battles in the trenches in the NFC East, then you're not winning."
The primary focus on Sunday was stopping No. 21, and for four quarters that's just what Greg Manusky's unit did. The third-year RB's longest run of the contest was six yards.
Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith both produced, too, with the former stripping Dak Prescott in the fourth quarter and the latter scooping up the ball for a walk-in touchdown that ultimately was the difference in the score. In all, Prescott was sacked four times.
Calling Jonathan Allen's demeanor after the win "business-like" wouldn't do justice for how serious the young leader was acting when discussing the result. It felt like he was already turning his attention to next Sunday's matchup in New York, but he did take a second to explain what the defense's goal was against Dallas.
"Dominating the line of scrimmage," he said. "And I feel like we went out there and did that today."
On offense, the Redskins have plenty of areas that need to be addressed. Alex Smith and his pass catchers aren't generating enough splash plays down the field, and overall, they have only scored one touchdown in a second half up to this point.
But aside from one dreadful outing in New Orleans — a place where plenty of defenses have dreadful outings, by the way — what they're building on the opposite side of Smith and Co. is beginning to feel very real. The organization hasn't had a D finish in the top half of the league in scoring since 2008, but that streak will absolutely end in a few months at this rate.
However, DJ Swearinger doesn't want them to get too complacent yet. In fact, he's trying to get his teammates to emulate one of the best collections of talent the NFL has ever seen.
"I always see it as the 2000 Ravens," Swearinger said on Redskins Postgame Live. "That's what we need to be pushing for."
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