Now that the first quarter of the season is over, it’s time to look back over the first four weeks and look for the greatest improvement across the three units. We’ll start today with defense.
Through the first two games of the season, the Redskins allowed 60 percent of opposing red zone drives to convert for touchdowns. But since the team took its show on the road, the Redskins have allowed only one red zone touchdown, and have improved to fifth in the NFL in red zone defense (36 percent touchdowns).
Sunday showed another stellar performance, against three second half red zone opportunities for the Rams. The first test did not come until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Rex Grossman threw an interception to Rams cornerback Justin King. King returned the ball to the Washington 31-yard line, putting the Rams immediately into field goal range. A run, pass, and penalty later, the Rams had first and goal at the Redskins 3-yard line.
An offense with four downs to get three yards typically has the advantage over the defense. But the Redskins didn’t panic or fold.
On first down, the Rams ran Steven Jackson to the left side of the line, who was bottled up and tackled by safety Reed Doughty for a one yard loss. On second down, Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold got beaten badly by Brian Orakpo and was flagged for holding. March back 10 years and try again, this time from the Redskins 14-yard line. On second and goal again, quarterback Sam Bradford threw incomplete to Jackson out of the backfield, under tremendous pressure. On third-and-goal from the 14, Bradford threw incomplete to tight end Lance Kendricks in the endzone.
Not only did the Redskins deny the Rams from gaining three yards, they forced the Rams to beat themselves for minus-11 yards. Trading a field goal for an almost certain touchdown kept the momentum in the Redskins favor, early in the fourth quarter.
Jackson said after the game that the interception gave the Rams momentum, but to no avail.
“We definitely had momentum,” he said. “When you have a team on their heels like that, you’ve got to find a way to put them away, at least tie the game up, force an overtime situation, and see what happens there.”
Instead, the Redskins defense dug in their cleats and took the momentum back.
Bradford said after the game that he was surprised and disappointed when they were denied the endzone.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. Our defense did a great job keeping us in the game the second half, forcing a couple turnovers, getting us the ball back when we needed it. There’s no doubt that when we got that interception, I thought we were going to score.”
On the second red zone drive, the Redskins finally did yield a touchdown, their first on the road this season. The play came on a second-and-goal from the 15, where Bradford threw to Jackson, and Jackson did the rest. Jackson is a talented playmaker, and on that play, he made a catch, a juke, a run, and a dive for the score.
The third red zone drive came literally seconds later, as Grossman was once again intercepted at his 20-yard line, and returned to the 19. This is when the Redskins red zone defense channeled Gandalf vs. Balrog from Lord of the Rings (You shall not pass!).
On first down from the Washington 19, Bradford passed incomplete to Danario Alexander. On second down from the 19, a Jackson rush was negated by an illegal shift penalty on the offense. On second-and-15 from the 24, the Redskins released the hounds, and Stephen Bowen sacked Bradford for minus-10 yards. On third-and-25 from the 34, Orakpo crashed through again from the left side for another minus-five sack.
Now knocked out of field goal range, the Rams were forced to hang their heads and punt.
“I thought we were going to tie the game and our defense would get another shot,” Bradford said after the game. “I thought we were going to get back and win the game. That’s exactly what I thought was going to happen. Unfortunately it didn’t.”
“When you’re down in the red zone, you’ve got to find a way to get a touchdown.”
Which is something that is getting increasingly hard to do against this Redskins defense.