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After Sluggish Start To The Season, Redskins’ Defense Getting Back On Track

By ZAC BOYER | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – For all the questions that lingered regarding the Washington Redskins’ potential before the season began, one thing was considered a certainty: The defense would be the team’s strength.


There were a multitude of reasons as to why this would be the case, and nearly all of them revolved around scheme and personnel. The Redskins’ coaching staff believed it had finally assembled a quality collection of talent for its 3-4 base defense – something the team was ill-suited to deploy when head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett took over prior to the 2010 season.

New Orleans scored 32 points against the Redskins in the season opener, and that was OK, because the Saints set a plethora of league records on offense last year.

Then St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 310 yards the following week, the third-highest total in his two-plus seasons, and that was still OK, because Bradford was a former No. 1 overall draft pick who had yet to reach his potential.

But when Cincinnati’s Mohamed Sanu, a rookie receiver, threw a 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in Week 3, the excuses were gone. Now, the Redskins realized, they had a problem.

“I know they can do it,” Haslett said shortly after that game, a 38-31 Bengals victory. “We’ve just got to keep working at it.”

And so they did, and today, as the Redskins (4-6) play Dallas in their first Thanksgiving game in a decade, what Washington has shown on defense in the last three games has been much more along the lines of what it expected.

Philadelphia managed just 257 yards of offense on Sunday in a 31-6 loss, with rookie quarterback Nick Foles held to 204 passing yards in his first start and LeSean McCoy only able to gain 45 yards on the ground. Foles threw two interceptions in the first quarter and McCoy fumbled in the second, and the quarterback was sacked four times.

“It just worked,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I think a lot of it was us being able to contain the run, and we had a lead most of the game. When a team’s playing from behind and is forced to pass and things like that, you can really get after them, so you don’t have to rewrite the book, reinvent the wheel. Just do what you’re supposed to do – go out there and work hard and be relentless.”

Foles’ uninspired performance followed that of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who was held to 201 passing yards in the previous game, and of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 222 yards on Oct. 28.

The Redskins still lost those two games, but the improvement was evident. The defensive line was getting pressure. The linebackers were containing. The secondary was covering. What else could the coaches ask for?

“That’s pretty good in the National Football League,” Haslett said. “If we continue to do that and not give up big plays and make teams earn the pass yards, then we have a chance.”

Dallas receiver Dez Bryant caught 12 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in the 23-20 overtime victory against Cleveland. Miles Austin, another reliable receiver for the Cowboys (5-5) will play against the Redskins for the first time in two seasons after missing both games last year because of injury.

But the Redskins shut down the Eagles’ top two receivers last week – DeSean Jackson had just two receptions for five yards, while Jeremy Maclin was held without a catch.

“Any time you’re able to do that on their explosion players like that, you’re going to have a good chance of winning the game and you’re probably playing some pretty good defense,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “It’s a new game, a new challenge for us, and we’ve got to come with the same energy. We can’t rely too much on what we did last game. We have to continue to get up and play four quarters, which we were able to do last week.”