The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and 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.
Even the beat writers are a little giddy
Brew: "The Washington Redskins may have a defense ... a real defense with brawn and moxie and a frightening disposition." https://t.co/vqxnDr9QpM— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) September 24, 2018
We’re talking about a real defense with brawn and moxie and a frightening disposition.
It’s not enough to make comparisons to the 1985 Chicago Bears, but this represents just shy of 20 percent of the season. Something is happening here and, for a change, it’s good.
[T]he defense has been a constant. And the players aren’t performing above their heads just to achieve that. Watch them, and you see both stunning displays of strength and athleticism as well as room for improvement.
[Fans] continue to be giddy about the virtues of the team’s young defensive line, led by a pair of first-round picks from Alabama, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. On Sunday, the D-line sacked Rodgers four times — Allen twice, Payne and Matt Ioannidis once. In terms of pass rush, it was the most disruptive it has been.
By playing lighter in the box, Washington is challenging the opposing offense to try to push around its defensive linemen and linebackers to take advantage. And for the most part, the front seven is holding up so well that Washington doesn’t have to bring a safety forward. It helps the team allow fewer explosive plays in the passing game.
A defensive-minded Gruden team? It’s possible. The capricious Redskins could have a defense that sustains them.
The Redskins’ glaring weakness last season was their interior play along the defensive line. On Sunday, the trio of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis wreaked havoc up the middle.
The Alabama Wall and IoanMan
The Redskins have, perhaps, the youngest crew of game-wreckers at interior defensive line in the entire NFL:
Daron Payne is 6’3” and 319 pounds. He is 21 years old.
Jonathan Allen is 6’3” and 294 pounds. He is 23 years old.
Matt Ioannidis is 6’3” and 305 pounds. He is 24 years old.
When the Redskins are in their base defense, this is the interior line that the opposing offense has to face.
While Allen and Ioannidis were both on the roster in 2017, Allen was lost to a Lisfranc injury in Week 5, and Ioannidis missed some games and played several more with a club after breaking his hand just prior to mid-season. When they were playing together before injuries hit, the Redskin defense was giving up just 88 rushing yards a game.
Daron Payne was, of course, the Redskins’ first round draft pick in April. With his addition to the middle, the Redskins now have what they have lacked for years — large, strong, athletic interior defensive linemen who can play three downs, stop the run, and wreck the passing game of the opposing team.
Against the Packers on Sunday, the Redskins sacked Aaron Rodgers 4 times. In past years that would have meant a good day’s work for Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith or maybe Junior Galette.
This week against the Packers, the stat line read:
The Packers rushed for a grand total of 100 rushing yards in the game, with no rushing TDs. Payne and Allen combined for 7 solo tackles — two more than ILBs Brown and Foster collected. I’ve heard it suggested that Brown and Foster may be amassing fewer tackles than last season because fewer ball carriers are getting free at the second level. I don’t know if that’s true, but I thought for comparison’s sake, I’d take a look at the defensive stats from the Redskins 2017 beatdown of the Raiders, which was probably the team’s best defensive performance in 25 years.
Last year, against the Raiders:
- Jon Allen has no solo tackles, 2 assists and one sack.
- Matt Ioannidis had one solo/one assist, and a half of a sack.
Not bad, but nothing like the production against the Packers this week.
How about the OLBs and ILBs?
- Zach Brown 5 solo/6 assists
- Martrell Spaight 3 solo/6 asssists
- Ryan Kerrigan 4 solo, 1 sack
- Preston Smith 2 solo, 1 sack
- Ryan Anderson 2 solo
- Junior Galette 1 assist, 0.5 sack
What I see in these numbers is that the defensive production in terms of the tackling business has shifted from ILBs collecting tackles and OLBs collecting sacks in 2017, to interior DL collecting both in 2018.
While there’s still plenty of tackling to be done by everyone on the team, the interior defensive line — which had been a weakness for so long in Washington that its status as a badly underperforming unit had simply become gospel by the 2016 season — the interior defensive line is now arguably the strength of the team.
And when I say strength, I mean it. Watch what Matt Ioannidis did to Bryan Bulaga on Sunday:
.@Redskins @MattIoannidis is becoming a factor up front getting a sack in each game. @NFL is still about player development and DL coach Jim Tomsula is as good as there is. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/kq0L8uEXCg— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 24, 2018
“Young, physically gifted, motivated, dynamic”
The rest of the NFL doesn’t know it yet, but the Redskins have, over the past three drafts, built a bully in the middle of the defense. The Packers know it now. The rest of the NFL will find out one week at a time.
In the comments section of an article I wrote about these three players following the Week 1 victory against the Cardinals, Natty Bo suggested that this unit be given a new nickname:
This may be the beginning of the Redskins DLine golden era. Lots of young, physically gifted, motivated, dynamic DLine talent. We just might have the depth which one needs to withstand normal DLine injuries during the season without skipping a beat. Love that these kids are going to be grow/mature together and could becoming really special. Kind of a Defensive version of the Hogs! Maybe the D Hogs?
Do we ... just unleash the DHogs (pronounced dogs)?
That sounds good to me. This unit looks to be the 2018 defensive counterpart to the big uglies that were once the most feared blocking unit in the NFL, the Hogs.
I second Natty Bo’s proposal. Allen, Payne and Ioannidis, backed by Settle, Brantley and the other guy are now — at least in 5 o’clock club articles — the DHogs!
This week, playing the Packers and the greatest quarterback of all time, Aaron Rodgers, who is known for creating penalties by quick snapping the ball while the defense is trying to substitute, Allen and Payne were on the field for 65 and 64 snaps, respectively, while IoanMan had a relatively light day with just 18 snaps.
Asked about that, Gruden had a snappy reply:
Here’s the longer version:
“We wanted to get [Payne and Allen] going. The first couple games we had a rotation going and trying to get their feet wet together, especially Daron, but I think he showed that he can handle the reps and we want to get him out there. We didn’t draft him in the first round to sit by me. We wanted him to play as much as possible and I was impressed with the way that he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end of the game.
They were flying to the football.
They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game.
Those two guys together, the vision that we had when we drafted them getting Jonathan and Daron together came to fruition yesterday.”
”We’re not down on anybody else, but I think those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field. We have some other guys that can play without a doubt, but those two guys are first rounders and very talented, so the more they play the better they get. We’ll still work in a rotation from time to time, but for the most part, those two guys will be out there when they are healthy.”
Personally, I think that the reference to other guys not playing as much has two layers: (i) I think the DL rotated less in week 3 because of Aaron Rodgers; and (ii) I think it is Ziggy Hood, Brantley and Settle who will see their snaps limited (Hood didn’t get on the field agains Green Bay). When Payne or Allen need a blow — and these 300 pound behemoths will need a break from time-to-time — I’m sure that IoanMan will be the first choice to spell them.
It's impressive how Allen/Payne were able to play nearly every snap. But impressive how they were still motoring in the 4th despite the snap count. Lots of pass rushes; taking on doubles; still running to the ball.— John Keim (@john_keim) September 25, 2018
All 4 sacks, narrated by Brian Baldinger
Some Redskins defensive ranks after three weeks:
- Total yards given up - 2nd
- Total points given up - 2nd
- Passing yards allowed - 5th
- Total TDs allowed - 5th (tied)
- Fumbles recovered - 6th (tied)
- Rushing yards surrendered - 8th
- Rushing TDs allowed - 9th (tied)
- Interceptions - 9th (tied)
- Receiving TDs allowed - 10th (tied)
Which D-Lineman has impressed you the most so far this season?— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) September 25, 2018
Who will end the season with more sacks?
This poll is closed
The OLBs (Kerrigan, Smith, McPhee, Anderson)