- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2016

LANDOVER — Josh Norman tossed the football to Joe Barry. Then he reached into the imaginary quiver strapped to his back, loaded an imaginary arrow into an imaginary bow and launched it into the crowd at FedEx Field.

For the third consecutive drive, the Washington Redskins defense willed the Cleveland Browns into committing a turnover — two of which the offense converted into a pair of touchdowns to take a 31-20 victory on Sunday.

The Redskins defense forced Browns fullback Malcolm Johnson and running back Duke Johnson to fumble on the two possessions prior, the first of which was converted into a touchdown to give Washington a 24-20 lead.

Timely turnovers were the only way the Redskins were going to erase what was an otherwise paltry defensive performance.

Washington entered Sunday having allowed opponents to rush for 369 yards and a league-worst seven rushing touchdowns. Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed for 112 yards on 15 carries, gashing the Redskins‘ porous run defense for 7.5 yards per carry. Duke Johnson added 53 yards on nine carries and the Browns racked up a total of 163 yards on 28 attempts.

“We have to figure out where we’re coming up short,” coach Jay Gruden said after the win. “Is it missing tackles at the second level, is it getting off blocks, is getting pushed back too much on double teams? We do have to do better, but if you do give up some runs we have talked about getting the ball out all the time. It’s what we’ve been preaching and [defensive coordinator] Joe Barry and his staff have done a great job with the players about forcing key turnovers in critical times, so today is no different.”

With seven minutes and 14 seconds to play, the Browns trailed, 24-20, and needed to go 98 yards to score. Cleveland coach Hue Jackson might as well have just handed the ball to Crowell every play and hoped for the best.

Yet after Crowell ripped an 8-yard run to improve the Browns‘ precarious field position, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler tried connecting with wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. Norman undercut the route and intercepted Kessler’s pass. Four plays later running back Matt Jones, who rushed for 117 yards on 22 carries and carried the offense in the fourth quarter, scored on a 1-yard run to seal the win.

In the first half, Pryor had beat Norman for four catches for 42 yards and baited the All-Pro cornerback into a pass interference penalty. Norman responded by limiting Pryor to one catch in the second half for four yards.

“I was figuring him out the whole first half, not getting frustrated with myself, not getting down either,” Norman said. Came back in the second half and went to a dark place. Shutting Down. Locking down.”

Washington raced to a 14-0 first-quarter lead after Cousins connected with tight end Jordan Reed for a pair of red-zone touchdowns, an area the Redskins had struggled to score. The lead was squandered when the winless Browns (0-4) outscored them 20-3 in the next two quarters.

Crowell sliced through the Redskins defense at times for gains of 19, 18 and 11 yards. He picked up 17 yards on a single carry on two separate occasions. On the Browns‘ first touchdown drive in the second quarter — which ended with Crowell’s 2-yard score — Cleveland used 12 plays to go 81 yards and rushed for 48 of them.

Holding a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, the Browns were burning for another touchdown. Crowell began the drive with a 19-yard gain. His 14-yard reception eight plays later brought the Browns to the Redskins 16-yard line. Cleveland inexplicably gave the ball to its fullback, Malcolm Johnson. He gained 7 yards, but fumbled when inside linebacker Will Compton jarred the ball loose. Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar recovered and that’s when Cousins connected with running back Chris Thompson to put Washington ahead.

A Browns touchdown in that moment would have sent the Redskins careening toward a 1-3 record and three consecutive home losses, with a road game looming against the Baltimore Ravens (3-1). Washington also entered Sunday ranked last in defensive third-down efficiency. A rookie quarterback and the Browns‘ offense converted 8-of-12 third downs, including Kessler’s 13-yard completion to Gary Barnidge on third-and-10 and no defenders in sight.

“We got to make corrections now the second quarter of the season,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. “We don’t straighten that out now, that 2-2 record ain’t going to be so great. There’s going to be more Ls on the road. Teams don’t have to throw the ball against us because we’re suspect against the run.”

After Norman’s celebration, hilarity ensued when referee Jeff Triplette announced the cornerback was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for “shooting a bow and arrow.”

If the turnovers do not keep coming, the Redskins‘ inability to stop the run or get off the field on third down will be no laughing matter.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide