Here's five takeaways from Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry's media session with reporters on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Loudoun County, Va.
1. The Redskins have been able to make the necessary adjustments in the second half of games this season to shut down opposing offenses.
While the Redskins have played in a lot of close games this season (all nine have been a one-score game going into the fourth quarter), the defense has played some of their best ball in the third and fourth quarters this season.
In five different games this season, the Redskins haven't allowed a season half touchdown. All five of those games just happen to be victories.
During last Sunday's 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Redskins didn't just hold the Vikings out of the end zone in the second half, they pitched a shutout.
"I don't think I've ever been a part of a game whether you're playing well in the first half or poor in the first half where you go into halftime and you talk about what's going on, what just happened," Barry said. "Sometimes obviously based on the course of the first half, you have to make more drastic adjustments, but I think that happens in every single locker room in every single game around the league at halftime. Subtle adjustments are made. But the guys have come out – and like you said also, I think the execution is obviously better in those situations as well. But I really can't put my finger on it."
That second half effort must extend to other quarters, too, though. After Washington jumped out to a 14-0 second quarter lead over Minnesota, they allowed three touchdowns just before the end of the half.
They can't get into a situation like that again.
"You guys probably get tired of me saying this, but this is the NFL and if you don't come out ready to play every single snap, you're going to get bit in the butt at times," Barry said. "You know, I think it was a little bit of a combination of us not doing our job well enough but also they get paid and they practice also and they made a play. And they made a few plays in the second quarter unfortunately."
2. Barry showed some of the game film from the Redskins' playoff loss to the Packers.
A lot has changed for both teams since the Redskins and Packers squared off in a January playoff game at FedExField, but Washington knows it let one get away from them during their Wild Card Round showdown 10 months ago.
That's why Barry recently popped in the tape from the Redskins' 35-18 playoff loss.
Washington, of course, jumped out to an 11-0 lead and even went back up 18-17 in the third quarter after losing the lead before the game slipped away.
"We went back and I showed the guys a play today – with five minutes left in the third quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-one at midfield and got it. I told the guys that up until that point, at that point we were winning 17-18 with five minutes left," Barry said. "What I was trying to get the point across to the guys is anytime in the National Football League – obviously in playoff football – but anytime you have got to play 60 minutes, you have got to play every snap. You have got to be perfect and on your A-game every snap, because, obviously, the other team is trying to do that."
Barry thought the defense "played very well" at times against the Packers, but once Aaron Rodgers got into a groove the Redskins weren't able to answer.
Rodgers finished the game with 210 yards and two touchdowns while using no-huddle calls to his advantage.
"I think at times we played very well last year, but when you go against a guy like No. 12 [Aaron Rodgers], you have got to be on it every snap because he demands that type of perfection because if you slip, if you're off, he's going to make you pay for it," Barry said. "It was just a great example to say, 'Hey, we played well at times, but we can't have lapses, not against a guy like this. You have got to bring it and be on it every snap for 60 minutes.'"
3. Speaking of Rodgers and those quick plays, the Redskins can't get caught off-guard.Rodgers has done it to almost every defense now.
His hard counts draw defenses offsides, and with the free down he'll chuck it downfield for big gains and even the occasional touchdown.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 11 game against the Green Bay Packers Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park
"He's a master at it," Barry said. "He got us in the second quarter last year on a crucial third down. Third-and-four, got us. So, yeah, it's something that you preach, you prepare for, you talk about. The first thing with the hard count, the key thing is any defensive linemen should get off on the ball. You don't get off on sound, you get off on movement. And that's the biggest issue that defensive linemen have when they jump offsides, they use – as far as the stimulus of getting off – they use the sound of the quarterback's inflection instead of the ball. So those are things that you constantly talk about, you constantly work on."
The Redskins prepare for these instances during individual drills in practices.
As the defensive linemen get down into their stance, position coach Robb Akey will hold a ball attached to a stick and try to bait them into moving. The idea behind the drill is that the players don't move until the ball moves.
"In the heat of the moment, that's why quarterbacks do it, especially quarterbacks like him that really use that voice inflection very well," Barry said. "But it's something that we point out. We've showed them on TV copies in the meeting. But you've got to be disciplined, you've got to get off on the ball, not on sound."
Washington will also try to counter with constantly rotating players in and out.
"You've got to sub and you've got to sub with urgency," Barry said. "And it's not only the guy running onto the field subbing, it's more importantly the guy running off the field, because he [Rodgers] looks for it. And I don't know if it's truly just him looking for it or if the coaches on the sideline see it and give him the green light through the headset, but he's outstanding at it. So we've got to counter-balance that with being disciplined. When we do sub, we've got to sub with great urgency on and off the field so we don't get caught."
4. The Redskins want to find ways to get Anthony Lanier on the field more.
After being a healthy scratch for the Redskins' first seven regular season games, Lanier finally got on the field during the Redskins' 27-27 Week 8 tie with the Bengals and made a huge play, recording a fumble recovery in the waning minutes of overtime to prevent Cincinnati from extending their last drive.
Lanier once again played last Sunday against the Vikings, appearing on 18 defensive snaps.
As the Redskins look to solidify a strong defensive line rotation down the stretch, Lanier will get opportunities to show his talent.
Anthony is a kid – if any of you have ever seen him in person – a big, great-looking kid, but he's raw," Barry admitted. "But, God, he has so much natural ability, natural instincts. It's really scary. But it's exciting as he keeps getting better, as he keeps getting coached, as he keeps getting stronger in the weight room every day, as he starts to understand the tricks of the trade and really the techniques of playing defensive line in the National Football League, it's scary to think where he can go because he has so much natural ability. A lot of the times he's just out there – nothing against him, from where he came from, the small college, he doesn't have a lot of background – he's doing a lot just based on natural ability and, again, he's got a very bright future I think."
5. Josh Norman can play all over the field, but the Redskins would like to keep him on the outside.
It's a question that gets asked frequently for Norman. If he can travel all over the field, why doesn't he go inside more often to play against top slot receivers?
In short, he can. But Barry wants to keep him on the outside. That's where his strengths are as a cornerback.
"Some wideouts are just more comfortable outside. Some wideouts just have a better feel outside. I think it's the same thing," Barry said. "I mean, I think Josh Norman, we could say, 'Hey, you're going to play nickel corner today and be in there every snap,' and he'd be fine with it. It's just some guys, some guys can, some guys can't. You have really got to be able to do everything when you play nickel corner. What I mean by that, you have got to be able to play man, you have got to be able to play zone, you have got to be able to fit the run a little bit more than you would as an outside corner. You're a little bit more of a blitzer, so, you know, we love Josh where he's at and what he does for us within this defense, but, no, I think if we wanted to, Josh could absolutely be a nickel corner."