Redskins turn third downs from weakness to strength
Opponents moved the chains on the Washington Redskins more than any other NFL team last season.
It was drastically different Sunday night when the Redskins held the high-octane Oakland Raiders offense to 128 yards and a staggering 0 of 11 on third downs.
Combine it with Kirk Cousins’ precision on third down, and this was the kind of Redskins performance in important situations that had coach Jay Gruden feeling good seven days before visiting the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
”All around, the calls were sound, the players executed, we tackled extremely well, we flew to the football,” Gruden said on a conference call Monday.
”Everybody who took part played well, played hard, played with great passion and energy and played smart.”
Oakland’s 128 yards were the fewest allowed by a Washington defense since 1992, and that included 25 yards on a meaningless drive in garbage time.
A 100 percent success rate on third down and two interceptions of David Carr stood out and are the reasons the Redskins are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East at 2-1.
”When you play good team defense and you hold a team to 0 for 11 on third downs, it is everybody,” Gruden said. ”It was somebody different all the time. It was the interior pass rush. It was the edge pass rush. It was the coverage. It was tackling. It was pursuit. It was a little bit of everything. Fighting off blocks. There was some fundamental clinic tape in that game that I am very, very impressed with.”
The Redskins allowed opponents to convert on 46.3 percent of third down opportunities in 2016. In addition to changing defensive coordinators from Joe Barry to Greg Manusky, Gruden pointed to an upgrade in talent.
Washington signed defensive linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee, linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger in free agency and drafted defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, linebacker Ryan Anderson and defensive backs Montae Nicholson and Fabian Moreau. Nicholson, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, had one of the two interceptions of Carr.
”Our goal was to stop the run and then get off on third down,” Nicholson said. ”That is pretty much our goal every week.”
Offensively, the Redskins went 7 of 15 on third down. Cousins was 10 of 12, including a touchdown pass to Chris Thompson, as Gruden credited the offensive line for good protection.
”All offseason I was asked, `What are you working on, what are you trying to get better at?”’ Cousins said. ”The answer was situational awareness. Not just stick to my reads, but to think about how does that read change every now and then, because the game situation is changing.”
Carr struggled under pressure, something the Redskins would love to duplicate against Alex Smith, who likewise goes into the game without an interception this season.
Gruden also has his sights set on keeping up the good tackling against the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill.
”Every week, it’s a huge key,” Gruden said. ”It’s a major emphasis for us since OTAs, it’s a major emphasis in training camp, and it’s a major emphasis during the week – good fundamentally sound tackling and pursuit to the football.”
NOTES: TE Jordan Reed (chest/rib), RB Rob Kelley (rib) and LB Mason Foster (shoulder) are considered day to day. … Gruden said OT Ty Nsekhe is seeing a specialist for a core muscle injury and ”could be out a little while.” … Gruden expects RB Samaje Perine to be OK after bruising a hand.
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