Led by the NFL’s most opportunistic defense, the New York Jets are off to their best start in five years.
The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, may face another lost season if they can’t take better care of the football.
The Jets (3-1) have never won at home against Washington ahead of Sunday’s tilt, but have looked impressive, and are fresh off a bye following a 27-14 win against Miami in London in Week 4.
Even after winning three of their first four for the first time since 2010, first-year coach Todd Bowles preached levelheadedness.
"We understand that we’ve only played one quarter of the season and all we did was get off to a good start," Bowles said. "We haven’t accomplished anything."
There’s still plenty for the defensive-minded Bowles to be happy about. New York is plus-six in turnover margin and its 3.3 takeaways per game are the most in the NFL. The 13 takeaways – including five by Darrelle Revis – already match New York’s total from last year. The Jets forced only three through their first nine games in 2014.
Washington’s nine giveaways are tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. Turnovers were a major problem for the Redskins (2-3) each of the last two years, as they committed 65 while going 7-25.
Their second of two turnovers Sunday at Atlanta was especially costly, as Kirk Cousins’ interception in overtime was returned 59 yards for a TD in a 25-19 loss. Cousins hasn’t been intercepted in Washington’s victories, but has thrown six in the three losses, also completing 64.3 percent of his passes compared to 74.0 in the wins.
"He’s going to have his ups and downs. Every quarterback does," coach Jay Gruden said. "It’s a matter of keeping your team in the game, making good decisions and giving your team a chance to win at the end. … He’s showing enough to where we can work with him."
Washington has lost 15 of its last 16 road games, committing 36 turnovers in those defeats.
The Redskins thought DeSean Jackson might be able to return to give Cousins a boost, but on Saturday pronounced him out for a fifth straight game. Jackson, who led the league with 20.9 receiving yards per catch last season, hasn’t played since suffering a strained left hamstring early in the team’s Week 1 loss to Miami.
Relying on a ground game that’s has been limited to 3.5 yards per carry the last three weeks could be even trickier with Washington missing Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams (concussion) and center Kory Lichtensteiger (shoulder, finger). Ty Nsekhe will make his first NFL start in place of Williams and Josh LeRibeus gets his second start to take over for Lichtensteiger.
The Redskins will be working against a New York defense that is not only forcing turnovers, but also ranks second limiting opponents to 4.5 yards per play – and figures to get stronger this week with the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Richardson, who was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, returned to practice this week and will play, according to Bowles, though what his role will be is unclear.
On the depth chart, he’s listed behind rookie Leonard Williams, who has impressed with 2 1/2 tackles for loss. The first-round pick practiced in full Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury late against the Dolphins.
"It was tough seeing plays you know you could make," said Richardson, who recorded a team-high eight sacks and earned a Pro Bowl selection last year. "It was tough dealing with that. Now I’m back here and I realize I’m going to have to work for my spot because (Williams) is playing so well."
Washington’s run defense was blasted for 176 yards on 32 carries by Atlanta, and could be exploited by Chris Ivory, who is averaging a league-best 104.7 rushing yards.
Brandon Marshall, the Jets’ first player with 100-plus receiving yards in three straight games since Al Toon in 1988, has averaged 102.3 yards in three career meetings with the Redskins.
New York has dropped eight of 10 all-time meetings, but won the most recent matchup 34-19 on the road Dec. 4, 2011.