The Redskins spent time, money and draft capital to improve their defensive front. Through three games of the 2018 season, those moves are paying off.
Construction of a rebuilt defensive line truly began at the 2017 NFL Draft when Jonathan Allen slipped all the way to Washington with the 17th pick. He showed plenty of promise last season, but an injury cut his season short after five games. The Redskins barely recovered from his absence and the team's rush defense limped to finish last in the NFL.
Washington continued to invest in the defensive front in 2018, drafting Daron Payne in the first round and Tim Settle in the fifth. The 'Skins also re-signed tackling machine linebacker Zach Brown during free agency.
Add it all up, and the Redskins currently rank in the top 5 of the NFL in nearly every meaningful defensive category. Giving up fewer than 15 points-per-game, Washington is tied for second in the NFL with the vaunted Jacksonville defense. Prefer the yardage allowed metric to measure team defense? Washington (278 per-game) only ranks behind the Ravens (273 per-game).
Any good defense has strong players lining up from the front to the back, but it always starts up front.
In Washington, that means Payne and Allen at the top of the list.
"Those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday, after Payne and Allen combined for three sacks of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.
"We have some other guys that can play without a doubt, but those two guys are first-rounders and very talented, so the more they play, the better they get."
Add in Matt Ioannidis, who has three sacks in three games, and the Redskins have a stout, young defensive line. Almost more importantly, all three players are on rookie, team-friendly contracts. In fact, Pro Football Focus has Ioannidis ranked as the highest graded of the Redskins defensive linemen, probably because of crazy plays like this.
Washington will continue to push Payne and Allen into more situations and more snaps. In the Packers game, both of the former University of Alabama defensive tackles played more than they ever had before.
"The first couple games we had a rotation going and trying to get their feet wet together, especially Daron, but I think he showed that he can handle the reps and we want to get him out there. We didn’t draft him in the first round to sit by me," Gruden said. "I was impressed with the way that he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end of the game. They were flying to the football. They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game. Those two guys together, the vision that we had when we drafted them, getting Jonathan and Daron together came to fruition."
This week the Redskins get to rest and nurse some wounds, particularly along the offensive line. After their bye, however, both sides of the football will be tested.
First comes a Monday night game in New Orleans with the explosive Saints offense. That will be the biggest test yet for the young D-line. The following week will bring a different, more physical test for Allen and company: Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Redskins fans should be excited about the young defensive front. The play has been very encouraging, and that's without much statistical production yet from outside pass rushing stalwarts Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan.
If the defensive numbers look the same after games against Drew Brees and Newton, then the conversation is no longer about potential. It's about results.
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