LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins' defense, battered and missing key parts just like the offense, found a way to get mentally healthy if nothing else to play the New York Giants. After facing so many top offenses in the season’s first 10 games, the Giants provided relief.
But the Redskins found a way to force the Giants into even more inept play. And one week after blowing a 15-point lead in New Orleans -- against a far superior offense -- the Redskins responded with a strong showing.
Yes, the Giants rank last in the NFL in scoring so it’s not as if a shootout was anticipated. However, the Redskins made New York's bad offense look even worse. New York set season lows for total yards (170), yards per pass attempt (3.19) and yards per play (3.09).
The Redskins did this while starting Zach Vigil, a linebacker who wasn’t on their roster until a week ago. Nor was nose tackle A.J. Francis, who has now played one game this season. And rookie linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was active for the fifth game this season, played from scrimmage for the first time.
Now the Redskins get a chance to build momentum on defense. After facing seven top-10 offenses in the first 10 games, in the next five games they play four offenses ranked 22nd or worse in points per game and 21st or worse in yards. Dallas, Washington’s next opponent is playing just as poorly as the Giants. Maybe worse.
In three games without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys have averaged 235 yards of offense (31st during this time) and 7.33 points on offense (last). It certainly beats the top-heavy first-half schedule Washington faced -- and quarterbacks who made them pay for constant assignment mishaps.
In addition to New York's own futility, here's what helped Washington:
The pass rush: The Redskins’ edge rushers have done a solid job this season of applying pressure. The Giants’ are weak at tackle. It proved to be a good combination for Washington’s rush as the Redskins recorded four sacks -- three by outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan (two) and Junior Galette (one). Galette has been applying more and more pressure as of late. Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier also had one sack. But there was constant heat on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, one reason he completed only 11-of-27 passes. Other reasons: Drops, bad throws and a receiving corps without its top three.
“It made it easier for us in the back end,” Redskins corner Bashaud Breeland said of the pressure. Nobody was getting on us quick. They can’t really do too much because [Manning] has to get the ball out of his hand and if he held it any bit, our D-line was there. It was good.”
The run game: Even though New York only scored three points on offense in the first half Thursday, they held the ball for 17 minutes, 40 seconds. At some point, if the Redskins’ offense didn’t start producing, even the Giants’ offense could take advantage of a weary defense.
One problem was a Redskins’ offense that converted no third downs (out of four) and whose running backs combined for six carries and five yards. But they stuck with the run in the second half. Starting back Samaje Perine finished with 24 carries for 100 yards – his second consecutive triple-digit effort. Perine became the first Redskins back to post back-to-back 100-yard games since Alfred Morris in Weeks 9-10 of the 2013 season. The Redskins were thankful.
“At [halftime] we were beating our defense up ourselves,” Redskins tackle Morgan Moses said, “because we were getting off the field so quick and the defense was playing a hell of a game. We had to control some of the clock to give our defense a rest. That’s what we did. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed.”
The fill-ins: The Redskins miss the sidelined players, starting with lineman Jonathan Allen. They also miss Mason Foster and Will Compton more than people might realize -- namely because they’re the ones who communicate best at linebacker. That makes a difference when teams go hurry-up or are in two-minute situations. The Redskins avoided those disasters Thursday.
They also received enough help from the new signees. Francis made a key stop, getting off a block for a tackle. Vigil did a good enough job in his 39 snaps. Deshazor Everett bumped DeAngelo Hall from the starting lineup after the latter’s tough game vs. New Orleans.
“Guys coming off the street and they’re plugged in and in the next couple days they’re playing a game,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “It’s the craziest thing ever. And they’re holding their own. We’re out there balling.”
Everett appeared to play well, more disciplined than in some other games in terms of being in the right place.
“Shaze played a great game, a hell of a game,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “Coverage was great. Tackling was great. He definitely improved today. My thing with him is stay consistent. Next week do the same thing or better.”
The same can be said of Washington’s defense. Thursday night was a chance to get mentally healthy.
As Norman said, “We have to continue it.”