Last week, it was suggested that Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. was playing at an All-Pro level. He’d collected two interceptions through the early part of the season and forced consecutive fumbles against the Panthers and Cowboys. His play as an enforcer behind the defense has, simply put, been difficult to ignore.
His play in Sunday’s 20-13 victory over the Giants, the Redskins’ third straight victory, turned that suggestion into a statement. Swearinger collected two more interceptions, the third time he’s grabbed a pair in a game, and the defense shut down a New York offense filled with playmakers.
“Defense played great, we played lights out,” Swearinger said at the podium. “Those guys up front did a great job containing 26 [Saquon Barkley], back end we made some plays, I made a few plays, something to get used to. But we’re gonna keep rolling.”
Should they keep rolling, Swearinger will take on substantial credit. Though the Redskins couldn’t convert both of his turnovers into more points, he grabbed them at critical times and has become a bellwether for team success.
His first interception came in the early part of the second quarter, with the Giants in the red zone looking to knot the score. Swearinger, playing lower in the box, took on tight end Evan Engram but passed him off, moving to his right as wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s slant route collided with him. They bumped shoulders, and Swearinger secured quarterback Eli Manning’s pass.
“Every time they get to the red zone they like the Steeler concept, and I just showed like I was in man and came off on it,” Swearinger said. “It’s a film-studying play and I took advantage of it.”
He added: “I do late catches every week in practice, you know late catches, and I thought that was kind of a late catch for me, so it’s all hard work paying off. If I hadn’t been doing those late catches at practice I might not have caught that pass, it’s just hard work paying off that’s all it is.”
Swearinger’s second interception was easier to corral – Manning’s deep pass floated beyond his receiver and to the right – and thwarted another Giants drive aiming to get to midfield.
Swearinger attributed a lot of his awareness and confidence on the field to film study, elements of his game that the public overlooks because of his vocal demeanor. His ability to rally the defense, to speak on its behalf, has been the focal point of media coverage, but the 2018 season, seven games young, has proven Swearinger is more than just his vocal chords.
“I’ve been grinding for a long time, I’m a guru in the film, that’s something that I take pride in,” Swearinger said. “I feel like nobody watches the game and studies the game like I do, so when I get out here on Sundays it’s extremely easy, I’ve just gotta keep it rolling keep staying in that film room, keep working hard like I’m doing, keep getting these guys ready to play on Sundays and we’re gonna go on a long journey.”
Swearinger also finished the game with five tackles and a pass defense, one which forced fourth down as the Giants made a late effort to add a touchdown trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter. Playing for his fifth head coach, Swearinger is now enjoying the fruits of staying in a defense for two consecutive seasons. “This is my God-given ability taking over right now,” he said.
“I think the biggest things is the continuity with the calls, and the system and the people around him,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “I think he is just getting more and more comfortable. Like I said, he didn’t have a lot of time with Montae [Nicholson] last year. We rotated safeties, [Deshazor] Everett played, we had a bunch of guys playing safety with him. But his durability has been outstanding. But now he’s starting to get some chemistry with Montae and everybody else. And anytime you’re in the same system for more than a year or two, it’s going to help you. You’re going to have more confidence and obviously play a lot better.”
Swearinger has exhibited a continual ability to motivate himself and those around him. He thrives on the “disrespect” the media has for him and the Redskins. His latest example came this week, when Pro Football Focus neglected to put his photo onto a graphic in which he was rated the No. 1 safety. He took it personal, played exceptionally well several days later, and the Redskins stole another key division win on the road.
“This is the first week they didn’t put the number one’s picture up,” he said. “I tweeted them and said ‘Make sure they watch this game today,’ because I wanted to show them that I’m the best safety in this game, and I’m a keep doing that every week in and week out so they’ve just got to get mad at me.”