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.
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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.