Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emphasis On Turnovers Paying Off As Redskins Amongst League Leaders
ASHBURN – Defensive coaches always preach on the importance of turnovers. Force ‘em. Recover ‘em. Do whatever you can to make sure the ball ends up back in the offense’s hands.
It was a steady refrain from Jim Haslett last year. The Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator was consistently confounded, though, because his team could only recover 21 turnovers, tied for the ninth-fewest in the NFL.
Things have changed this season. Through the Redskins’ first six games, they have 14 takeaways, which is tied with Cleveland and the New York Giants, their opponent on Sunday, for fourth in the league.
“Sometimes the ball just bounces your way, but guys make plays,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “The emphasis has always been there, but now we’re turning those turnovers into points.”
The Redskins have intercepted eight passes and recovered six fumbles. They have scored four times on defense in six games, started two other drives on offense within their opponent’s 10-yard line and have scored three times on a possession following a turnover.
“It gets us excited,” said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who had a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, the second of his two-year career, against Atlanta on Oct. 7. “It gets the whole team excited, because any time you get a turnover it’s great but getting a turnover and scoring is even better.”
Coaches will say that scoring on defense has often been said to increase a team’s chances of winning the game. Not only is the defense putting points on the scoreboard, but it’s also ending the opponent’s chance at doing so.
Oddly, scoring on defense still hasn’t yet had a direct influence on the Redskins’ success this season. They have won just one of the four games in which a defensive player took the ball across the goal line; in the three losses, the defensive touchdown either gave Washington the lead or tied the score.
Only Madieu Williams’ 24-yard interception return against Minnesota on Sunday came in a victory, and it was crucial, helping the Redskins stave off a potential late-game comeback by the Vikings by pushing the advantage to 30-12 with 12:40 left before Kai Forbath’s successful extra point.
“They’re in the right place at the right time,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. “Williams’ score the other day was clearly a hurried-up throw and the quarterback didn’t set his feet, and he was the right man at the right place at the right time. But to have four defensive scores, to be plus-9 [in the turnover differential] at this point in the season, they’ve done a really good job of ball hawking and being in the right place at the right time and then taking full advantage of it.”
The Redskins had three turnovers against the Vikings, and only against the Falcons did they not force more turnovers than they committed. They have intercepted at least one pass in seven consecutive games, their longest streak since 2005, and the three interception returns for a touchdown in one season last happened in 1999.
“The teams that win are teams that are good in turnover area,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “Once you get to the playoffs, the teams that win the Super Bowl are usually the best in the turnover area, so that’s always an emphasis of something we’ve talking about the last couple years.”
Since the 2000 season, only one team has won the Super Bowl with a negative turnover differential – the Giants in 2007, who were 26th in the league at minus-9. Only New England and the Falcons, who entered Week 7 play at plus-10, have a better turnover differential than the Redskins.
“I think second only to points scored and points against, it’s the critical factor,” Coughlin said. “[It’s] not only that, it’s the thinking that goes with that in terms of you’re trying like heck not to give the other guy any break. You don’t want him to have the ball in good field position. You don’t want him to have the ball in a circumstance where he hasn’t earned that turf, that yardage that we fight for so desperately.”