Last week against Dallas, Washington’s defense had a big game in their 20-17 win over the Cowboys.
This week in New York? Let’s call it a giant performance. Washington’s front-seven racked up seven sacks to go along with two interceptions from the defensive backs en route to a 20-13 win that felt like it should have been a 35-3 blowout.
Head coach Jay Gruden was asked if anything other than hard work went into the defensive line’s dominance, which led to him talking more about the hard work they put in. Go figure.
“Matt does play hard and he’s also very strong, he’s one of the strongest guys on our team. And he’s smart football player too. He understands leverages and double teams and all that. Jonathan and Daron, they are good,” Gruden said. “They were first-rounders for a reason. Daron is an unbelievable run player, great leverage, great hand strength. Great idea of what plays are coming, getting off blocks, pursuit never stops. Jonathan is the same way. So, those two guys together, like I said, we had a vision for those two guys that’s starting to come to fruition obviously and we got to keep them healthy. They are great players."
Washington first planted the seed for that vision during the 2016 NFL draft, when they selected defensive end Matt Ioannidis in the fifth round. The following year they grabbed Jonathan Allen in the first round and followed it up by selecting Payne, his former teammate at Alabama, in this year’s first round. Those guys combined for 4.5 sacks Sunday, dominating the interior of the Giants defensive line.
Redskins.com previewed how the Giants line was susceptible to giving up sacks in last Friday’s Path to Victory, but the Redskins surpurpassed all reasonable expectations with Sunday’s dominance on that side of the ball.
They sacked quarterback Eli Manning on 13 percent of dropbacks, with five different players registering a sack. Most notable was Ioannidis' 2.5-sack performance, which included three drive-killers. Ioannidis currently leads the team with 5.5 sacks, a career-high for the third-year defensive end who has been a rotational player throughout his NFL career.
When asked why Ioannidis is the lesser-known player on the defensive line, Allen didn’t have answer.
“I don’t know, I mean that’s a good question, he’s an animal, he’s a dog, you seen that today. I don’t know,” Allen said. “Pass rushing’s about relentlessness and he’s got it.”
It’s true, Ioannidis has been successfully rushing the passer all season, so maybe his big sack-day will start getting him more notoriety. Pro Football Focus has had him as the most efficient pass rusher on the team through the first six games, and he turned that efficiency into productivity against the Giants.
Ioannidis got his two solo sacks on stunts up the middle like this one, where after switching with Allen he just bulldozes the guard backward and wrapped up Manning.
“Matt’s always been a good pass rusher though,” linebacker Zach Brown said. “He was one of our best pass rushers last year. Now this year, you got Jon and Payne there too so now you got to worry about them. So you just can’t double team Matt, you going to have to pick who you want to double team.
Brown added that when one of their guys gets a 1-on-1 matchup because someone else is double-teamed, performances like Sunday’s can happen.
In addition to Ioannidis’ big day, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan added to his hot-streak with a 1.5-sack performance, pressuring Manning all day and making sure running back Saquon Barkley didn’t have an easy time getting out to the edge.
After going sackless through the first three games of the season, Kerrigan has collected 4.5 in his last four games, including a crucial forced fumble that lead to a defensive touchdown in last week’s win.
Kerrigan, along with the other linebackers and defensive ends, continued to dominate the line of scrimmage, holding Barkley to 38 rushing yards on 13 attempts. This follows performances where they held running backs Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliot to 53 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
This run defense is not a fluke, and when asked about it, Josh Norman said it’s anything but a surprise to him.
“Yeah, look upfront. Pretty simple. Sticky on the outside, we got guys who can rush. Not guys that are playing patty cake and playing around,” Norman said. “These guys actually know what they’re doing. They get to the football, I said that from day one, day one. I knew it was going to take time, but finally, once you start getting over that hump, start getting over that hill. We just riding our tricycle down it.”
Washington’s so-called tricycle ride takes the team home to FedExField next Sunday, where the Redskins will play the 3-4 Atlanta Falcons, hoping to keep the wheels turning on their three-game win streak.