This past offseason, the Redskins’ coaching staff put an increased emphasis on creating takeaways on defense to help set a young offense up to make plays.
A big part of that plan was centered around veteran Redskins’ defender
“Making the play isn’t always about actually making the play. It’s sometimes about being in the right position while somebody else makes the play,” Hall explained. “Doing your job sometimes is ‘making the play.’ We’ve done a great job as a coaching staff, as players, trying to respond and counteract what [the opposing offense is] doing and it’s been working for us.”
In Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, Hall recorded the first full sack of his nine-year NFL career. He recorded his first-of-12 passes defensed in Week 2, along with his first fumble recovery of the year.
His first interception of the year came in Week 4, and his four on the season are his most since 2010.
“It’s been cool. I still haven’t made as many plays as I would like to but it’s good to see the progression of our defense, of our team,” Hall said in reflection. “We started out kind of thinking we were going to be a good team. Record-wise we obviously weren’t at 3-6 but guys responded in this locker room, myself included.”
The Redskins have responded in the form of their first six-game winning streak since 2005, securing the first winning record since 2007.
Hall tallied an interception in each of the first two games after the bye week, helping to knock off the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
He was not surprised by the team’s success since the bye week, saying that the team is finally living up to the expectations the players set for themselves.
“We had a goal at 3-6 to win the division. It was unimaginable,” he said. “I’ve been in the league nine years and I’ve never been in a position at 3-6 playing for anything. For us to be 3-6 and still have our goal right there in front of us, I feel like it motivated every guy in this locker room and coaches too. That second half, we just came back rejuvenated.”
Hall and the rest of the Redskins’ players and coaching staff have stressed that nothing changed schematically at the bye week to usher in new success. Head coach Mike Shanahan noted that the team simply started playing loose and executing better.
“We started making some more plays,” Shanahan said. “When you lose a few games by three points, you’re still doing some good things. The things that I was really proud of our football team the first half the season was our turnover ratio. If you can be in the top of the league in turnover ratio, you just look at that stat alone, and usually you’re a .500 football team.
“If you can improve on that, obviously offensively or defensively, then you have a chance to be in the playoff hunt.”
Hall credited the coaching staff by pushing the right buttons in the secondary, even while shuffling players due to injury, inconsistency and suspension.
“They gave us everything they had from a gameplan standpoint,” he said. “We gave them everything we have from heart and dedication, going out on the field standpoint. The end result has been six-straight wins—about to be seven.”
In order to make it seven, the team plays host to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and the NFC East crown on the line.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Hall, a lifelong Redskins fan, said. “This rivalry dates back a long time. I remember being a kid and watching these guys go at it—Darrell Green and Michel Irving and Troy Aikman and all these other guys. It’s good for football; it’s obviously good for us.
“With those guys coming here, playing for so much, there’s going to be a lot on the line. We’re going to give them everything we’ve got, because they’re going to give us everything they’ve got.”
For Hall, a victory over the Cowboys that seals Washington’s playoff berth and ends the Cowboys’ season is a storybook script.
“We’re motivated by that,” he said. “Obviously, you want the easiest road possible, but is there any better game that the fans could want to see, besides the Redskins-Cowboys for the division? No, absolutely not.”
A win on Sunday would secure the Redskins’ first playoff berth since Hall’s arrival in Washington, and his first trip to the playoffs since his rookie year in Atlanta. He admits that he was unable to fully appreciate how hard it was to make the playoffs back then, but has a good understanding of that now.
“It’s been a long time for everybody in that locker room. I was in the NFC championship game as a rookie and I thought the NFL was easier than college,” he said. “I never won more than 10 games in college. I won 12 as a rookie.
“I thought I was going to go back every year, but it’s obviously been a little bit of struggle. Having this right in front of us, we have to take it. Being able to win 10 games this season, win the division, and keep going.”
Since his arrival in Washington during the 2008 season, Hall has played alongside more than a dozen different defensive backs, indicative of the high turnover on defense in that period of time.
Even though other units have carried more star-power or individual accolades, Hall has high praise for this year’s group in the secondary.
“From top to bottom, this feels like one of the most complete groups I’ve ever been on,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of talent in this secondary before but for some reason we haven’t been able to put it together, whether it’s been from a turnover standpoint, getting guys healthy on the field at the same time, or what.
“We’ve had our adversity this year too, but somehow the next man has always been ready to step up and ready to go in there and give everything he has. It’s been great for us and we’ll continue to keep trying to get better.”
Part of that improvement is derived from the development of some of the younger defensive backs on the squad.
Hall is the most veteran player in the secondary and said that he embraces the opportunity to impart wisdom on the younger defensive backs.
“We have a mentoring, big brother sort of relationship,” he said. “They tell me I should coach, and I’m like ‘There’s no way I would ever coach.’ I just try to guide them and help them learn and get better, see the bigger picture.
“Whether I go down or somebody else goes down, the guy behind you has to be ready to go. So we’ve got to prepare what we can to do out there if we need them.”