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EL-BASHIR: Redskins defense looks very stout, but let's relax just a bit

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EL-BASHIR: Redskins defense looks very stout, but let's relax just a bit

Kirk Cousins managed the offense efficiently and, more important, didn’t commit a turnover in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Rams.

Matt Jones fumbled, but the rookie running back more than made up for his miscue by posting the first 100-yard performance and first two touchdowns of his career.

The special teams units, meanwhile, not only did their job—with a rookie kicker making his NFL debut, no less—they did it well for a change.

But you know what impressed me the most? The defense, which shut out an opponent through two quarters for the first time in four years, then clamped down in the clutch.

Two games into the season, in fact, it can be argued that Joe Barry’s unit has been the team’s most valuable asset. Consider:

*If you subtract Jarvis Landry’s punt return for a touchdown in Week 1, Washington has allowed an average of 10 points—the lowest among teams that have played two games. 

*Yards allowed per game? Yep, that’s tops in the league, as well, after the unit held the Dolphins and Rams to 74 and 67 yards on the ground, respectively.

*Ryan Kerrigan and Co. have limited opponents to a 29.2 percent conversion rate on third downs. That’s fifth best. 

*Although the sack total (fourth/tied for 13th) isn’t much to crow about, it’s not really an accurate reflection of the pass rush's performance. Led by Jason Hatcher’s eight pressures, the unit hurried Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles a combined 19 times, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Indeed, there's a lot to like about the defense and the job Barry has done so far.

“If we can just be sound at what we’re doing and stop the running game and bring pressure when we want to, we’ve got a very diverse system over there,” Head Coach Jay Gruden said before singling out Barry’s scheme for some praise. “It’s rush three, it’s rush four, it’s rush five. Whatever keeps the offense off-balance and the defensive players producing.”

And while there’s no stat for defensive clutch-ness, if there were, Barry’s group would probably rank among the league leaders in that category, too.

When things got a little hairy in the third quarter against the Rams, who had just capitalized on a Jones' fumble and pulled within 17-10, the Redskins were in desperate need of a response.

MORE REDSKINS: Can the Redskins contend for the NFC East title?

And the defense delivered it, right on time, allowing just one first down on the Rams’ next two drives. Washington’s offense then put the game away with a minute-munching, 12-play, 77-yard drive that Jones capped with a three-yard touchdown run.

Afterward, it was apparent that confidence is growing among the defenders.

“Our defense is one of the best defenses in the league, or the best defense in the league,” said defensive end Stephen Paea, who notched his first sack as a Redskin. “If we can play like that—play fast and finish strong—we’ll beat a lot of lot of teams.”

Linebacker Keenan Robinson added: "We are a different team than last year. In the offseason, they did a great job of bringing in guys who would really help this team out right away and help us win right away. We have a great D-line who is really two-deep. We don't have backups and starters on the D-line. We wear the offensive line down and that's how we stop the run. And that helps us on the back end. We worked hand-in-hand, the front end and the back end. That's how we're going to win games."

Like most native Washingtonians, I’m prone to irrational exuberance the day after a Redskins’ victory. So I’m going to rein myself—and this column—in a little bit now.

We’ve seen the defense get off to a hot start before. Just last year, as a matter of fact, I recall similar optimism after Jim Haslett’s defense held the Texans and Jaguars to a combined 20 points (subtracting the punt that was blocked and returned for a score in Houston).

How’d that turn out?

So do yourself a favor. Be excited about the first two weeks. Be optimistic about next 14. Buuuut…wait a few more games before you make any grand pronouncements about this defense.

I definitely will.  

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—OTA report, fans excited about young D-line

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NBC Sports Washington

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—OTA report, fans excited about young D-line

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 25, 62 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins' dead cap—This post does a good job of outlining where the Redskins’ dead cap came from. It should be noted that dead cap is a part of the cost of doing business in the NFL and the Redskins have done fairly well managing it this year. Only about a dozen teams have less dead cap on the books than the Redskins $5.2 million. 

Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins—I received some comments saying that my worst-case scenario, a 6-10 finish, is not low enough. Since we’re talking about events that won’t begin to happen for about three and a half months, I can’t really argue with them. But it’s just hard for me to see them dropping more than a game from last year when they were hit harder with injuries than any other team in the NFL. 

Pre-OTAs Redskins player one-liners, defense—An extension for Matt Ioannidis seemed preposterous a year ago, now it seems like a good idea. How many sacks for Lanier? When will Ryan Anderson get his first sack? Plus offensive player one-liners here

Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp—You can’t tell everything from OTAs, but you can tell some things. Taking another look at this post, I gave a good, detailed look at the session, but I didn’t really mention the overall feel, which was fun and energetic. 

Tweet of the week

Certainly, Derrius Guice is the fan favorite of the rookie class. But the great reaction to this tweet shows that there is plenty of love for Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, last year’s top pick. 

In 2016, the starting defensive line consisted of Ricky Jean Francois, Chris Baker, and  Ziggy Hood. The top reserve was Cullen Jenkins. They all had their good qualities and made some plays. But Baker was the youngster of the group and he turned 30 during the season. It clearly was a group on the decline. 

Two years later, the picture is quite different. Payne and Allen lead a younger group that will get better over the next few years. Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Tim Settle, and Stacy McGee should round out the group. McGee is by far the senior member of the group at age 28. None of the others have celebrated his 25thbirthday yet. 

Fans should perhaps temper their optimism with the knowledge that potential doesn’t always develop into performance. But unlike years past there is something to look forward to. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 18
—Training camp starts (7/26) 62
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 76

The Redskins last played a game 145 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 107 days. 

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