Beyond Sunday: Where The Defense Earns Contender Status In Ten Days

As Jon Stewart said recently, the media has two settings; blackout and circus. No one wants to be caught giving premature praise, and few have the stones to eat crow a la Rick Reilly. They usually compensate by going overboard without objectively measuring a team's given situation. The Redskins have been quietly creeping up the power rankings and if our defense performs against the Eagles and Panthers, we'll likely be deluged with impactful questions on SportsCenter, all variations on:

I think most analysts would agree the Redskins have a playoff quality defense, but do they have a Super Bowl defense, and just how far can the defense carry this Washington team?

[frowns intelligently] That's a tough question. DeAngelo Hall's been great for them this year, he had four interceptions against the Bears last year, basically won the game for them, Pro Bowl MVP. He's the leader of that defense. You got Brian Orakpo on one side of the pass-rush with rookie Ryan Kerrigan, this is just good team construction. You really got to give credit to Bruce Allen.

Huzzah for insightful analysis. But what's the big deal about ten days from now? Y'know, besides the possibility of 5-1? QB play wags the dog, and regardless of Philadelphia's and Carolina's shortcomings, limiting the damage Michael Vick and Cam Newton can inflict in consecutive weeks will convince the talking heads that the Redskins defense is legit.

A number of the difficulties Kevin lists in his assessment of why the Eagles are a tough matchup for us apply to the Panthers as well. Is Cam Newton scaring anyone yet? I caught the NO-CAR game on replay and I was shocked at his ability to extend plays. Maybe it's old news, maybe it's premature, but take that and his ability to hang tough in the pocket with a weapon like Steve Smith, and Newton scares me more than Michael Vick.

I know that sounds a little crazy with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin catching the ball. The problem is that the containment strategy we will certainly be taking for Vick needs to be applied to Newton as well. If you don't believe me, check out the 2:05 mark. With Newton not afraid to step up in the pocket and trust his offensive line, we may end up asking ourselves what might have been if Jarvis Jenkins were healthy. But our health has been sterling, otherwise, and I'm not complaining.

Brent Celek isn't scaring anyone, and while Newton has made good use of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, we'll simply be trusting our linebacking corps to take care of business against opposing TEs. Each team's running backs present their own problems. DeAngelo Williams is waking up, Jonathan Stewart is effective in the short passing game, and we're plenty familiar with the headache LeSean McCoy. Add in keeping a weather eye on a mobile QB and our LBs will have their plates plenty full.

Going back to Philly's and Carolina's deep passing attack, I'm betting this is where we finally see Oshiomogho Atogwe and our secondary take center stage for the first time this season. Believe it or not, Mr. Newton over or underthrew more than a THIRD of his passes against the Saints. If he continues that trend against the Redskins, DeAngelo Hall may account for more touchdowns than Rex Grossman.

A measured pass rush is huge, but to my eyes, these two games are going rest on Laron Landry, Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, and Adam Carriker.  We know O.J. is for real, our CBs can get it done, and our LBs are solid to Pro Bowl.  The D-line has been a joy to watch this season...pass rushing two of the league's more dynamic quarterbacks is going to provide excellent calibration for what we can expect from this unit.  Perhaps sharing duty with the ILB corp, Laron will likely end up playing spy on the QB while also preventing screens and dumpoffs from doing too much damage, at least against Carolina.  We may not have that luxury against Philly, but either way, strong safety play is crucial to containment.

You probably know this, but Carolina is better than their record. There were several key miscues Week 5 from the coaching staff. One led to the Saints getting a field goal at the end of first half when Coach Ron Rivera called a timeout before the clock expired with the Saints out of timeouts.  Another came on a deep throw on a 3rd-and-short when the team just needed to move the chains, but perhaps that objection is more to taste.  And for all that, Drew Brees had to orchestrate a clock-killing touchdown drive to recapture the lead with less than a minute remaining.  It still wasn't decided before the Carolina offense went down passing.  When Cam Newton is on, he's scorching.

It's a quarterback-driven league, and when the quarterback ensures that every defensive player on the field is crucial to the unit's overall success, maybe you can forgive me for utilizing that banality. While neither QB is likely to be confused with Aaron Rodgers, if the Skins emerge ten days from now with a 5-1 record, get ready for a media dial set to 'Circus'.

Our takeaway from the next two weeks is probably an indicator of how close we are to being a complete defense. The Eagles are desperate to save their season, the Panthers are frustrated and looking for a win to hang their hat on. A poster at Cat Scratch Reader had a nice piece on the 2011 Panther's similarities to the 2010 Detroit Lions. Point of course being that this is exactly the kind of team that would sneak up and smack us on the mouth. Of course, they're more likely to get a hatchet to the face because like Parks said, this is the NFC bEast and the Redskins are playing smashmouth football.

This is my first post of any real length here at Hogs Haven, hopefully it's not coming off too sophomoric. In any case, we are number one. All others are number two or lower.

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