- - Monday, October 22, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

After beating Carolina last week, Washington cornerback Josh Norman noted that the home team started the game on defense and ended the game on defense. “That’s what you want,” he said.

Maybe that’s what HE wants. I think most fans would prefer a series of kneel downs from Alex Smith in victory formation.

Such conclusions are certainly less nerve-wracking than watching Cam Newton drive the Panthers to within 16 yards of the go-ahead touchdown. And they’re definitely less stressful than endings like Sunday, when Dallas lined for a game-tying, 47-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, but a penalty made it a 52-yard kick that caromed off the left upright.

“Man, it was crazy,” Washington linebacker Mason Foster said after his team survived for a 20-17 victory. “Just hoping and praying man, for real. We had been working hard, everybody is living right, so something had to go our way and I’m just glad that it happened like that.”

Brett Maher’s kick would’ve been good from 47 yards. Dallas long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, a 14-year veteran who afterward couldn’t recall ever being flagged for a false start — referee John Husey called it a “snap infraction” — said all he did was adjust the ball. “Exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years.”

But that adjustment caused defensive end Jonathan Allen to jump offsides, and Washington’s good break led to Dallas‘ unlucky bounce. “I definitely was sweating a little bit when I saw movement over there,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “It’s kind of crazy the difference five yards can make.”

The defense played too well to say Washington got lucky. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with random good fortune. Fluke plays and perfect plays all look the same in the box score. And halfback Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t shut down by happenstance. He entered Sunday as the league’s second-leading rusher and added only 33 yards to his total.

His longest run was six yards. His average carry netted 2.2 yards. Non. Factor.

Elliott had enjoyed big days against Washington, having rushed for 330 yards in his first three matchups, all Dallas victories. Then again, many halfbacks feasted on the burgundy-and-gold of late; no team was worse in defending the run last year. This season, only New Orleans and Philadelphia are better.

Can we note the warm, satisfying feeling of watching back-to-back first-rounders put their imprint on a defense? Allen and fellow former ‘Bama lineman Daron Payne were drafted precisely for games like Sunday. By anchoring the front so impressively, the duo inspires confidence among the linebackers and secondary. Norman said stopping the run is key for everything else.

“(The Cowboys) thought they were going to come in here and run the ball down our throats,” he said. “They were trying to move guys out of the way and they couldn’t do anything about it. When you see that, you’re like, ‘I’ll sit back here and drink an iced tea.’ It’s a joy to see.”

Next week’s opponent — the New York Giants — present another challenge in halfback Saquon Barkley. The No. 2 overall pick in April, Barkley has lived up to expectations. He entered Monday night’s contest ranked ninth in yards per game (73.0). He’s third in yards from scrimmage (135.2) and no running back has more carries of 20-plus yards (seven).

“That’s the one we want,” Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said. “We want Saquon. He’s been doing a lot of great stuff; he’s a generational player. Watching him, a lot of people can’t tackle him on the first try, so we need to be the defense to try and do that.”

They’ll let coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Alex Smith worry about the one-dimensional offense that’s relying way too heavily on Adrian Peterson. The offense scored just one touchdown against Dallas and converted only three times on third down. Smith passed for fewer than 180 yards for the second consecutive outing and recorded his lowest completion rate this season (56 percent).

As things stand, the defense has to play a lot closer to Swearinger’s gold standard — the 2000 Baltimore Ravens — which had a similarly afflicted offense with Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer under center.

We’d like to believe Washington will be more productive than that when (if?) Chris Thompson, Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson return to health. But the defense must prepare for the worse-case scenario — as if much help isn’t on the way. Making stops and closing out games might have to be the norm around here.

Victories without victory formation are harder on the nerves (and the eyes). But they’ll have to do.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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