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The 5 O'Clock Club: D-E-F-E-N-S-E

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Please forgive me.

I’m no football analyst — to paraphrase a German from the middle of the last century, I just get the 5 o’clock club published on time — so I want to beg your indulgence in advance.

I was really bothered by what I saw on the field on Sunday, and I wanted to take a bit of time to get some distance and perspective on the game before setting any thoughts to paper.

What follows is little more than the ramblings of a fan shell-shocked by Sunday’s intense but unlovely game. I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about.

I got home from work on Monday, and after dinner, I turned on a replay of the Giants-Cowboys game, which, as you probably know, was a low scoring affair that the Giants lost 3 - 19.

As I was watching, I was letting thoughts of the Eagles-Redskins contest tumble through my mind, and a few aimless ones started to stick together.

In particular, I thought about guys who seemed to me to have played well, or at least made some big plays.

Kerrigan stood out.

Zach Brown, Josh Norman, Baushaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller all played very well.

Swearinger made an impact.

At one time or another Jonathan Allen, Junior Galette, Stacy McGee, Mason Foster, Preston Smith and Matt Iaonnidis all made plays.

And it occurred to me that, of the 30 points scored by the Eagles, a lot was driven by bad field position and a fumble returned for a TD. Another came when Jamison Crowder muffed a punt and gave Wentz & Co a short field.

The key early success was a TD on a broken ‘scramble’ play in which the ‘Skins pressured Wentz and nearly (if pigs had wings) sacked him. According to Gruden, this was one of four times during the day that the D got hands on Wentz, just to see him break the tackle. It’s good to remember that Wentz is about the same size as Big Ben, he’s mobile and hard to bring down, so while it’s frustrating that they didn’t sack him, it’s at least a bit understandable.

The defense also had two sacks taken off the board — Mason Foster’s by a Redskins penalty, and Junior Galette’s by an Eagles penalty — or the game stats would have looked more impressive.

Now, they still had issues — especially the inability to consistently get off the field on 3rd down — but the Redskin defense played pretty well overall. They also forced two turnovers — with Kerrigan putting points on the board with his pick-6.

Suddenly, I’m thinking: “Hey, the ‘Skins defense forced two takeaways, brought pressure on Carson Wentz all day, and scored a touchdown. They didn’t have a bad game.

And, while dropped INTs are nothing to brag about, the fact is, the Redskins were in position to get a couple more takeaways if the DBs could have just controlled the ball coming down (there’re those flying pigs again!).

Now, don’t get me wrong... I’m not trying to put lipstick on a pig (are you sensing the emergence of a theme here?) The ‘Skins lost, and the Eagles were the better team on the afternoon, but as I pondered the defensive performance versus the Eagles, I began to feel like I might be onto an idea.

Since at least 2012 (and probably longer) the Redskins have really been seen — by their own fans, by the media, and by the rest of the league — as primarily an offensive machine with no real defense. I, myself, have often likened Gruden’s Redskins to Sean Payton’s Saints -- a passing team that tries to get to the finish line in a game of ‘whoever scores last wins’.

The Redskins haven’t really had a defense to be proud of since Greg WIlliams was fired in January 2008. (As an aside: Man, you gotta think that the decision not to promote Williams to head coach at that time may have been one of the worst decisions in the last decade.)

In any event, it occurs to me that, as a fan base, we’ve been conditioned by the past 10 years to think of the Redskins as an offense-oriented team, and further conditioned by the years since 2012 to think of that machine as being pretty productive. For quite a while now, when the Redskins put up a “W”, it was usually because the offense did its job. When the team put up an “L”, it was because the defense didn’t.

Since the demise of Gibbs 2.0, the defense had become the red-haired step child of the Washington Redskins — the unit just couldn’t do anything right.

But on Sunday against Philly, the defense played well enough to win the game. Even the Eagles’ “play of the game” — the long touchdown to Agholor — was really a busted play for the Eagles. It was a fantastic individual effort by Carson Wentz, but the ‘Skins defense was harassing and harrying him (right up to the moment that he torched them).

But FOUR giveaways by the Redskin offense -- one of which went immediately into the end zone — were too much to overcome. The Skins lost another season opener.

But this one was really on the offense and special teams (fumbled punt return, shanked punt, bad decision on kick off return).

So here’s where this thought process took me:

We’ve spent the off-season telling ourselves that the offense was gonna be a top-5 or top-10 unit, and that if the defense could just get a little better (say, a #20 ranking), that would be good enough.

But what if we’ve had it all wrong all off-season?

What if Josh Norman, Baushaud Breeland, DJ Swearinger, Zach Brown, the McTwins, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Junior Galette really are that good? What if they can do a 2016 NY Giants, and go from being among the league’s worst to being one of the league’s best in a single off-season?

It might require re-imagining who the Redskins are. It might mean that, as fans, we may have to get used to a different team. Garcon & DJax out, a new defensive crew in, including the apparent reemergence of players like Breeland and Preston Smith.

We might be in for a lot of 17 - 13 results.

And that might not be bad.

It’s just possible that this defensive unit can carry the team.

The benefit would be to take pressure off of the offense, freeing Kirk Cousins to play within himself a little more. The Redskin offense was putting up 25 points per game last season, and the team finished just a half-game over .500, while 6 playoff teams scored fewer points per game than Kirk’s crew.

The problem last year was that the defense was giving up 24 points per game.

It’s possible that in 2017 the defense can lead the way to victory. If so, the offense can play more field-position, low-turnover, low-risk ‘small ball’ (at least for a while) as the offense integrates its new receivers and finds its feet. I’m not suggesting that we turn Kirk Cousins into ‘Checkdown Charlie’, but I am suggesting that the team may be able to turn him into Alex Smith for the time being (that’s Alex Smith Classic, not the Dan Fouts clone that was seen on the field against the Patriots last Thursday night — I dunno where he came from).

I’m thinking that, for the (hopefully) few weeks that it takes Kirk & his current crew of receivers to find their rhythm and the offensive line to figure out how to block, it might be okay to let the defense carry the water.

I’m thinking that if Jay Gruden can get his head around the idea that he’s got a defense that can stop the other guys (assuming that’s true), and adjust his game plans accordingly, then the Redskins might have the chance to grow into a different type of team, in a different type of NFC East.

The team might turn into a high-pressure, sack-the-quarterback, turnover-producing, defense-led grinder.

The NFC East is packed with talented QBs, receivers & tight ends. Every NFC East team has stressed defense with its draft & free agency moves for the past two years. The division has one (and only one) marquee running back in Zeke Elliott.

This division is going to be won or lost by getting pressure on the quarterback. I firmly believe that.

On Sunday, the Eagles were more successful at winning with pressure, but the Redskins were chasing Wentz around all day. The team seems to finally have an ILB in Zach Brown capable of chasing down a play; it seems to have some decent interior D-line play, with some interior push; the Smith-Kerrigan combination looked effective, and Galette made plays when he was on the field. The defensive backs put truth to the old saying that if DBs could catch they’d be receivers, but the CBs, especially, were often in position to make a play on the ball.

The model for success may be to unleash the dogs — to harry and harass the opposing quarterbacks, knowing that the team has DBs with enough talent to defend and take away, and an ILB with enough speed and tackling ability to defend the run.

It’s possible that the current emergence of a very good defense was obscured by a bad loss against the Eagles. The offense and special teams play lost on Sunday; the defense played well enough to win.

It’s just possible that a new team identity is about to erupt.

If it does, I wonder if we’re ready to embrace it?

How do you feel about the Redskins and the 2017 season now?

Poll

Question 1: Where will the Redskins defense be ranked at the end of the regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Top 5
    (5 votes)
  • 23%
    6-12
    (57 votes)
  • 62%
    13-20
    (150 votes)
  • 10%
    21-26
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    27-32
    (2 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Question 2: How many wins will the Redskins have at the end of the regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    less than 5
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    5 or 6
    (55 votes)
  • 11%
    7
    (76 votes)
  • 13%
    8
    (93 votes)
  • 22%
    9
    (152 votes)
  • 26%
    10
    (183 votes)
  • 11%
    11
    (78 votes)
  • 3%
    12 - 16
    (21 votes)
679 votes total Vote Now