Madieu Williams used whatever footing he had left last Sunday to dive for the end zone as he was pushed out of bounds. The Washington Redskins’ free safety finished his interception return by extending the ball with both hands. Sure enough, he knocked over the pylon. And when Williams got up and saw the referee signaling a touchdown, the celebration was on.
The home fans went bonkers. Williams ran to the middle of the end zone and flicked the ball to the ground. He puffed out his chest and held his arms wide as teammates mobbed him. The Redskins are getting used to celebrating defensive touchdowns this season, but for them it never gets old.
They have four defensive touchdowns, the most since the franchise’s NFC East championship season in 1999. As the Redskins continue to work on limiting opponents’ big plays and third-down conversions, in particular, their defensive touchdowns are helping to compensate for the amount of yards they have surrendered.
“Every team would like to do it, but the proof is in the pudding,” Williams said. “You see it. Whether it’s the coaching staff or players putting a premium on it, I think with the guys we have here, we have a lot of athletes who like to showcase their talent and get in the end zone.”
Every team emphasizes the importance of turnovers and practices forcing them. Why some teams score on defense more than others, then, can be difficult to explain. Of course, a defense has to create a turnover — and there’s plenty of skill involved with that — but it requires some luck, too.
For the Redskins this season, everything is falling into place
“They’re in the right place at the right time,” said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, this Sunday’s opponent. “Williams’ score the other day was clearly a hurried-up throw, and the quarterback didn’t set his feet, and he was the right man at the right place at the right time.
Williams was among the many Redskins players this week to acknowledge how defensive scores result from a team effort. Yes, he was the one who carried the ball across the goal line, but he couldn’t have gotten there without help.
As Williams dropped to the ground to catch quarterback Christian Ponder’s overthrow at the Minnesota 24-yard line, linebacker London Fletcher sprinted forward and launched himself at the intended receiver, Michael Jenkins. Fletcher blocked Jenkins just enough to prevent Jenkins from touching Williams down.
Then cornerback Josh Wilson led Williams to the end zone down the right sideline.
He blocked left tackle Matt Kalil enough to render ineffective Kalil’s attempt to push Williams out of bounds.
“When we catch the ball in practice, we take off running the other way,” said Ryan Kerrigan, who had a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown against Atlanta. “We all do because we all want to get that block that Josh had the other day that springs you for a touchdown. When you score on defense, it changes the momentum of the game drastically.”
Those scores have been a major boost for a defense that is scuffling to make more positive contributions.
The Redskins have surrendered 6.2 yards per play, which ranks 28th in the NFL. They have given up 29 plays of at least 20 yards, third-most in the league.
“It compensates a lot,” said linebacker Rob Jackson, who scored on an interception in the end zone against Cincinnati in Week 3. “If you can take the ball away, period, as a defense, is a plus from a defensive standpoint. And we’ve been not only able to take it away but put it in the end zone. I feel like it takes seven or 14 points away from what we gave up defensively.”
As impressive as the Redskins’ four defensive touchdowns are, they could easily have six.
Wilson should have been allowed to return a fumble for a touchdown against Cincinnati, but a replacement official blew the play dead even though Wilson wasn’t touched. And in Week 1 against New Orleans, safety DeJon Gomes was pushed out of bounds at the 3-yard line on a fourth-quarter interception return.
Washington has won only one of the four games in which its defense has scored. Coughlin isn’t eager to test those percentages, though.
“To have four defensive scores,” he said, “to be plus-nine [in turnover margin] at this point in the season, they’ve done a really good job of ball-hawking and being in the right place at the right time and taking full advantage of it.”