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Scoring Down As Redskins’ Defense Makes Its Presence Felt During Win Streak

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – The question hadn’t even been fully asked Monday night before Josh Wilson heard two numbers and interrupted, objecting to its premise.

Wilson

“We’re talking about winning,” Wilson said. “If you want to talk about [being] 3-6, you can go back to three weeks ago. Right now, we’re winning, so let’s talk about how we’re winning right now.”

Wilson was eager to move on from the struggles that had plagued the Washington Redskins earlier in the season. They had just defeated the New York Giants, continuing their once-improbable push to the postseason to improve to 6-6, and the cornerback wanted nothing to do with anything that would dampen the mood.

But Wilson was also eager to steer the discussion toward the victory for another reason. His defense, one that had struggled for much of the season, played well yet again in allowing the Giants to pile up their fair share of yards but not an insurmountable number of points.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III made his vow to improve the offense public after the Redskins emerged from their mid-November bye week, but the turnaround on the defense in the three games since has been just as impressive.

A unit that allowed 27.5 points per game in the first nine games has surrendered only 17.7 since, and it may be even more important to the Redskins’ turnaround than their sustained offensive success.

“A lot of guys are just doing their part,” defensive end Jarvis Jenkins said. “We’re not trying to do other peoples’ jobs. You know, I think one thing we have to improve upon is playing a full, complete game. I don’t think this defense has played a full, complete game. We may play an average first half and an excellent second half. As you can see from the last game, they got eight first downs in the first half and only got two in the second half, and if we can put that together, we could be a real good defense.”

Aside from two quarters at Dallas on Thanksgiving, when the Cowboys rallied against the Redskins’ relaxed defense to score 28 of their 31 points in the second half, Washington has allowed only one touchdown in the other 10 quarters of its winning streak.

That came in the second quarter against the Giants on Monday – and there could have been more. New York pushed to the Redskins’ 25-yard line or farther in five of their eight possessions and three times were forced to settle for a field goal attempt, making three of four.

Opponents entered the red zone nearly four times a game leading up to the bye week, scoring a touchdown 57.5 percent of the time. During the winning streak, though, the Redskins have allowed a touchdown only three of the seven times their opponents marched past the 20-yard line.

“We’re just playing it better,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “We’re playing it much better, and I think guys have an understanding of what’s going on.”

The Redskins’ defense was supposed to be its strength this season, with Haslett and head coach Mike Shanahan believing they finally had the personnel and the depth required to accurately deploy the 3-4 scheme they installed upon their arrival prior to the 2010 season.

Gradually, though, that advantage started to fall apart. The preseason suspension of Tanard Jackson cost the Redskins their starting free safety, while defensive end Adam Carriker, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather, all starters, have all been lost to injury.

“Earlier in the year, I think they were trying to adjust to all the injuries they had,” Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told reporters. “You look at the last four weeks, actually that defense is looking pretty good. … Just look at the game the other night against New York. They played extremely well.”

One thing the Redskins did often earlier in the season was allow, on average, one 40-yard passing play a game. While they’ve given up two in three games, Wilson suggested the defense has been focused enough not to let that play lead to a collapse and a touchdown on that drive.

“You can’t let them in the end zone,” he said. “They get in that end zone, and that’s how you lose games. You’ve got to hold them to the field goal, hold them out of the end zone no matter what. You give up just one more blade of grass – we’ll fight like there’s nothing left.”

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