Josh Wilson's four pass breakups aren't why he was so pleased with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys last Monday night. It was the reason for them.
"This is probably my first game I could make some of the calls," Wilson said. "The more comfortable I get, the more opportunities I have to make plays."
Wilson is one of five new starters on the Washington Redskins' defense who still are learning the scheme after getting a late start during training camp.
He could not practice with the team until Aug. 4 after signing a three-year, $13.5 million free-agent contract. Then, he strained his hamstring and missed the second and third preseason games.
Almost two months after joining the team, he is playing faster because of his growing familiarity with the defense.
When I know my responsibility, and I know other people's responsibilities, too, it helps me feel more comfortable," Wilson said. "I'm not thinking about what I need to do. I'm thinking about: what [is the opponent] doing?"
Wilson was all over the field Monday. He broke up one pass in the right flat after his receiver ran a deeper route on the outside. He read quarterback Tony Romo throwing short, so he left his man and played the underneath route.
He also broke up a fade intended for tight end Martellus Bennett in the end zone, and he denied tight end Jason Witten over the middle.
Wilson's breakout game was the same night safety LaRon Landry returned to the starting lineup. He doesn't believe that's a coincidence.
"All those plays I made on the ball are from feeling comfortable with LaRon and [safety] O.J. [Atogwe]," Wilson said. "I know I can play tighter on my guy. The play with Witten, I know I can play hard outside because I trust this guy is going to be where he's supposed to do. It just gives me the ability to make plays on the ball."
With Wilson and Atogwe, another free agent, getting acclimated and Landry back full-time, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett expects continued improvement from the secondary.
"As long as they keep working together, they're going to get better and better," he said.
Ground game remains a priority
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was content with how the Redskins balanced running and passing in Monday's loss. The Redskins dropped back to pass 40 times and ran it 22.
"In the third quarter, I think it was five runs and six passes, and we were balanced then. In the fourth quarter, the problem was it's going to get one-sided when you don't have long drives. We had too many, I don't know if it was three-and-outs, but it was about four-and-out and then we'd pick up a first down. We had very quick drives."
Shanahan, who calls plays, said before the season that he wanted to run the ball more. Only one team attempted fewer runs than the Redskins last season.
"We're happy with how we've run the ball this year. There are only [seven] teams that have run the ball more than us, so I think we've been fairly balanced. It's something that we believe in and, when the game dictates, it's what we'll do."
The St. Louis Rams, this Sunday's opponent, have allowed an NFL-worst 174.3 rushing yards per game.
• Chris Cooley, the fullback, carried the ball twice on third-and-1 against Dallas. The first was successful. The second was not.
"He had looked good at it in practice and we felt good about the play," Kyle Shanahan said. "I think we went to the well one too many times with the second time." ...
• Rookie nose tackle Chris Neild has earned more playing time, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. Neild has continued to improve his technique reading run or pass and maintaining advantageous leverage at the point of attack.
Neild played approximately 18 snaps against Dallas, Haslett said. That helps keep starting nose tackle Barry Cofield fresh for pass-rushing situations.
"Neild knows what he's doing, which helps when he pushes the pocket. He's really done a nice job."...
• Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was not fined for his profane critique of the officiating after Monday's loss to Dallas, the league announced. ...
• Wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, fullback Darrel Young and safety DeJon Gomes are game-time decisions with hamstring injuries, coach Mike Shanahan said. Each was limited in practice Friday. St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola (elbow) did not practice Friday and is questionable for Sunday's game.
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