- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

After being gouged for 380 yards in Week 4 by the no-name Cleveland Browns, the Redskins defense has clamped down, holding rookie phenom Carson Wentz and the Eagles to a couple of field goals Sunday and making Joe Flacco the week before look so inept the Baltimore Ravens fired their offensive coordinator.

The resurgent Redskins defense faces another test this Sunday in Detroit, where Washington’s four-game winning streak could come down to whether the team’s patchwork secondary can hold up against signal-caller Matthew Stafford, on pace for a career year for the otherwise mediocre 3-3 Lions.

With injuries to starting safeties DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton Jr., the Redskins’ sudden stinginess on defense has to be seen as surprising — even shocking. But players have plugged holes, traded roles and stepped up — and so far the experiment is working. Will Blackmon moved from the corner position to safety, Duke Ihenacho began to see more playing time and Donte Whitner Sr., brought in just two weeks ago, has gradually been worked into a role.

“I feel very comfortable,” Whitner said. “I think I’m pretty much caught up. There’s a thing or two that comes up every now and then I probably don’t know, but right now I feel really, really good playing in this defense. I know all the terminology, where I’m supposed to be and where the guys are supposed to be. I feel really good.”

Blackmon said his transition from corner to safety was initially difficult, not only because the way a safety sees the field is different, but because Blackmon now has more responsibilities as a communicator.

That was a point of emphasis in the improvement of the team defense. Blackmon said he’s comfortable communicating within his new role, and linebacker Will Compton noted that communication among the entire defense has improved.

“Player to player, player to coach, coach to player, all of it,” Compton said. “We got better routines about it. We talked about what issues we were having at times. We got on a better page and a better process of it all.”

Getting the kind of performance the Redskins have seen on defense in the last two games while missing key starters is no small feat in the NFL.

“There’s a big emphasis on depth,” Compton said. “[You get on] guys like ‘Hey man, once he gets dinged, we’re going to need somebody here. And, I’m telling you, once the season goes on, somebody’s going to go down, and somebody is going to have to fill a big void.’ We do a good job. One thing we got is we have guys who understand, who have some experience, who know the game and things of that nature. They are able to just plug in, and they take it serious. We are very fortunate we have guys like that.”

“I was just talking to [cornerback Quinton] Dunbar, like ‘It’s crazy,’” Blackmon said. “And you hear all this chaos, but for some reason, when it’s between the white lines on game day, we just lock in and we’re ready to be on the same page.”

Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said he has full trust in every one of his guys.

“I’m a firm believer you have 46 guys that have a helmet on game day and whatever number you have on defense—whether it be 21, 22, 23—let’s find a role for them,” Barry said.

It also helps to have that offseason addition in cornerback Josh Norman, who has been as good as advertised and has helped shore up the pass defense. Barry gushed over Norman, saying that Norman is malleable within the Redskins scheme and noted his appreciation of Norman’s desire to get better.

“He comes to work every single day,” Barry said. “He wants to get coached, he wants to get better. You know, that’s how he really made a name for himself. By no means does he ever feel like he’s arrived or he’s the man. If anything, he’s hungrier to prove that he’s worthy.”

That mindset may be spreading among the rest of the Redskins defense, because, statistically, the Redskins have looked far more sound. But the key to getting better and better is to never be satisfied, and Barry quoted “His Airness” to get his point across.

“I read Michael Jordan refer to what he calls a ‘peak performer,’ and a peak performer is someone who equals or betters their last performance,” Barry said. “And even though we played well last week, it’s the challenge for us as coaches, but players love it [too]. They want that challenge.”

The Redskins face the Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.

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