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The 5 O’Clock Club: Washington’s defense leads the way

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week 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.

Clearly, the Washington Football team was led to victory on Sunday by its defense, which gave up 17 points in the first half, but shut out the Eagles in the second half.

I’m writing this prior to the Monday Night Football double headers, so the team stats that I’m looking at only include 28 teams, not the full 32, but I think the observations to follow have value nonetheless.

Washington now leads the National Football League in sacks, with 8 against the Eagles. The next closest are the Chiefs and Colts, who are tied with 4 sacks each. Eight sacks is a monster day. Of course, no one should expect that every week; the fact is, the Eagles offensive line was decimated by injury. Two of their lineman made their first-ever career starts because they were forced into the lineup by injury. During the game, the right tackle was lost, and Philly was down to the third-string Australian giant, Jordan Mailata. Washington’s front four (with occasional blitzers) simply shredded the Philly makeshift O-line. Still, it’s nice to be on top. Seven different players on the Washington defense were credited with at least half a sack.

The Football Team is tied for 2nd in interceptions, with two picks that led directly to 14 points. Only the Patriots picked off more passes in Week 1, snatching 3 INTs against the Dolphins. One of the truly impressive things was the nature of the two Washington picks — they were both aggressive plays by cornerbacks who simply cut in front of receivers and snatched the ball away.

With a Fumble Recovery added to the interceptions, the burgundy & gold had 3 takeaways on the day, tying them for top spot in the league with the Ravens, who recovered two fumbles and picked off one pass against the Browns.

With respect to rushing defense, Washington gave up the 4th fewest rush yards in the league through Sunday, and by holding the Eagles’ runners to just 2.2 yards per carry, the Washington D set the gold standard for the week. The next lowest yards per carry was the Buccaneers, who averaged 2.4 ypc against the Saints defense.

Interestingly, despite the win, the Washington Football Team, established in 1932, ran the ball only 17 times in the game — the second fewest in Week 1 behind the Buffalo Bills. One reason was because of the short fields that were gifted repeatedly by the defense.

Not counting the single-play kneel-down to end the first half, Scott Turner’s offense had 14 series of plays — a rather high number. Incredibly, six of those drives started on Philadelphia’s side of the field, at Philly’s 45, 20, 46, 48, 42, and 16. WFT also had a sixth drive that began at the WAS 43. On five of those drives, the Football Team scored 3 TDs and 2 field goals, missing one FG attempt on another. On the final Washington drive of the game — the one that started at the Philadelphia 16 yard line — the team could have added points to the scoreboard, but with a 10-point lead, Ron Rivera opted to just milk the clock and seal the win. I haven’t looked it up, but I’d be surprised if another team in the league had better average starting field position than Haskins’ offense enjoyed on Sunday. For what it’s worth, that offense didn’t score any points on drives that began on their own side of midfield.

On special teams, Tress Way had a pretty good day, with a net average of 45 yards (good for 6th in the league) and two punts downed inside the 20. The Saints punter probably had the best day, with a 44 yard average and 5 punts inside the 20, while the Eagles punter was probably the only other to clearly outperform Tress. Cameron Johnson averaged 50.3 net yards per punt and dropped 3 of his 5 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Net points is the difference between the points scored and points given up. With a 27-17 victory, the Washington Football Team has a Net Points differential of +10; only 4 teams had a larger differential as of Sunday — with the Ravens leading the pack at +32 and the Chiefs in 2nd at +14.

Likewise, only 4 teams gave up fewer points than the stingy Washington defense. Again, the Ravens were the best, giving up just 6 to Cleveland; the Patriots were second, giving up just 11 points to the Dolphins. (Note: on Monday night, surprisingly, 3 of the 4 teams were held under 17 points, taking a bit of the luster off of the accomplishment of the WFT defense. If you didn’t see the late game, the Titans kicker missed 3 FGs and an extra point (before hitting the game winning field goal with less than 20 seconds on the clock) leaving 10 points on the field.)

While it may have felt as if the Football Team’s offense didn’t do much, only 8 teams scored more than the 27 points that the Haskins-led offense put on the board. Remembering that the offense ended their final drive with a kneel down at the Eagles’ 6 yard line, followed by a deliberate delay of game penalty and a final kneel down, it’s a certainty that the team could have had another 3 or 7 points in addition to the 27 actually scored.

We all know that Samuel Clemons famously cited “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. I think, however, that it is useful to put some context to the Washington victory. It was a team effort, led by the defense, certainly, but the offense put up points when given good field position and the special teams did enough to contribute to the victory as well, with Tress Way, in particular, again proving himself to be among the best at his position.

The only stats, of course, that really matter are the score and the resulting record. At 1-0-0 overall and in the division — the only team in the NFC East so far that is batting 1.000 — it’s the time to enjoy the moment and savor the success.

I’m keen to see what the Football Team can do on the road against the Cardinals on Sunday.