The Washington Redskins, on paper, have a very good defense.
The Seattle Seahawks, generally considered the gold standard for NFL defenses, have allowed nine yards per game more than the Redskins have, and they've allowed offenses to score two more points in total through three games. Granted, the Seahawks played the first two games of the season without All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor, but ignore that for now.
So how much stock should we put into the Redskins' solid numbers on defense through three games?
Well, not much. If you're a Redskins fan, and considering this is a Redskins blog I'll assume you are, it's worth being excited over. If we just compare this year's defense to previous incarnations of the Washington defense, it's a vast improvement. Keenan Robinson is proving to be the best inside linebacker the Redskins have had since at least 2012 London Fletcher, Terrance Knighton is plugging up the middle of the line and making life easier on other defensive linemen as advertised, Chris Culliver has been decent in his two games, and the defense has gotten valuable contributions from Stephen Paea, Ricky Jean-Francois and Trent Murphy, among others.
Considering those positives, and the inordinate number of injuries the team has already sustained, there is certainly cause for optimism. There's no reason, in theory, that Washington couldn't keep up this stellar level of performance on the defensive side of the ball.
On the other hand, consider the opposition. The Redskins have played the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and New York Giants so far. Those teams are, respectively, 19th, 32nd and 17th in yards per game. Each of those offenses has gone against the Redskins in exactly one-third of its games, so Washington obviously had an impact. But, and no offense to Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles and Eli Manning here, it's not like the Skins have gone against Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Miami has played the Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills so far. The Jaguars defense isn't very good and the Bills defense is pretty good but not great.
St. Louis has played the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle. Pittsburgh's defense is a mess without Troy Polamalu and Dick LeBeau and Seattle, as mentioned, didn't have Chancellor in Week 1.
New York has played the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons, neither of which have especially strong defenses.
What this means is each of the three teams Washington has played, and generally limited to modest production, is statistically average or worse on offense and has played against average or worse defenses so far, which therefore inflates its offensive stats.
The Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, which will be an interesting matchup because of Philly's fast-paced offense and the potentially dreadful conditions, but the first real test for the defense should come in Week 5 against the Falcons.
Not only does Washington have to figure out how to avoid being torn to shreds by the manbeast that is Julio Jones, but it also gets the chance to look foolish in going up against Kyle Shanahan and Leonard Hankerson.
How does he jump over the defender? How does he make this one-handed catch? It's because he's JULIO JONES #ATLvsNYG http://t.co/Y31pM2MNvL— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2015
Jones is listed at 6-3 and 220 pounds and Hankerson is 6-2, 211; the Redskins' top two corners, Culliver and Bashaud Breeland, come in at 6-0, 199 and 5-11, 197, respectively. Jones has already piled up an absurd 34 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns. Hankerson has 11 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown already this year, which is barely shy of Pierre Garcon's 17 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown.
So while the Redskins have been very good in stopping opponents' running games and have only given up a few big plays — this is something Washington has been awful with in years past, so a few is an improvement — they have yet to really be tested. The Giants were the first decent offense to match up with the Burgundy and Gold, and they put up a cool 32 points.
Check back after the Redskins visit Atlanta in Week 5, then we'll be able to properly gauge the defensive improvements.