LANDOVER — When the Washington Redskins have won this season, it’s usually been thanks in part to an individual defender with a standout performance. Jonathan Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers twice when the Redskins upset the Green Bay Packers. Josh Norman responded while under scrutiny and made his old team, the Carolina Panthers, miserable with an interception and a forced fumble.
On Sunday, Ryan Kerrigan took his turn in the spotlight.
The Redskins’ outside linebacker was having a quiet 2018 campaign, but he tripled his season sack total and caused a defensive touchdown in their win over the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.
Kerrigan entered the game with one sack in the Redskins’ first six games, but he recorded two more Sunday, including a clutch, fourth-quarter strip-sack that Preston Smith recovered for a touchdown that ultimately made the difference in the 20-17 game.
“That play, got a little chip (block) on the outside, so when I’m getting chipped like that by a tight end I’m trying to kind of just play off the defensive tackles,” Kerrigan said.
The pass rusher spread around praise for the play.
“(Daron) Payne did a good job getting upfield, kind of cleared the lane for me. DBs did a great job, made him hold onto the ball,” Kerrigan said. “Whenever we’re trying to tackle a quarterback or any ball-carrier, we’re aiming to come around with an arm and try to knock it in that general vicinity where the ball’s probably gonna be. Get that ball out and fortunately, that’s what happened, and even more fortunately, Preston was there and didn’t have a long jaunt to a touchdown.”
Kerrigan’s first sack came late in the third quarter on first down, similarly deep in Dallas territory. He finished with five total tackles and added a pass deflection.
With three sacks now, Kerrigan is not on pace for a double-digit total at season’s end, as he had each of the past two seasons. But that doesn’t concern coach Jay Gruden at all.
“The numbers aren’t there, but his presence his felt,” Gruden said. “He pushes the pocket. He’s very good against the run. You see him setting the edge out there, which enables our defensive line to continue on our gap control and make tackles and let the linebackers flow freely. … Ryan is a great player doing some great things this year, despite his sack total. We’ll let the statisticians figure all that out.”
Washington shut down Dallas’ running game. In particular, Ezekiel Elliott finished with only 33 yards on 15 carries. And the Redskins totaled four sacks — Kerrigan’s two along with sacks by Allen and Ryan Anderson.
“Those guys, they’ve been as advertised. You can see why Alabama is so good at football every year, because you’ve got guys like that on the team,” Kerrigan said.
Lost in the midst of his excellent performance was that Kerrigan actually briefly left the game with a chest injury. He later said he suffered a chest contusion in Week 6 against Carolina, and Elliott blocked him “right in the sweet spot” Sunday to bring back the pain. But Kerrigan was quickly cleared to return.
Kerrigan opened his postgame press conference with remarks honoring Rich Tandler, the Redskins reporter who passed away last week, as well a Purdue student named Tyler Trent. Trent is a Boilermaker superfan fighting terminal bone cancer and was the subject of a “College GameDay” feature Saturday.
Kerrigan, who played at Purdue, said he would send his game jersey from Sunday to Trent to say “we appreciate him and we appreciate the way he’s uplifted the Purdue community.”
“I don’t know him too well personally. We’ve had a couple exchanges on Twitter,” Kerrigan said. “But you can just tell he’s an outstanding human being. The way Purdue athletics has rallied around him, and really Purdue University, the whole school, has rallied around him, you can see what kind of person he is. I definitely was thinking about him today when I was playing.”
Washingtonians familiar with Kerrigan’s stellar work considered it a glaring snub when NFL players left him off last offseason’s “NFL Top 100” — not voting him as one of the league’s best 100 players. But he told NBC Sports Washington last summer that the supposed snub was “really kind of an inconsequential thing if you look at some of the guys on it.”
It’s never been the national spotlight that has spurred Kerrigan to become a top-flight player for the Redskins.
“I don’t need to motivate Ryan Kerrigan with conversations and talks. I know I’m gonna get his best effort every game,” Gruden said.