Cracking the defensive line rotation midway through the season, Anthony Lanier II has made the most of his opportunities highlighted by a two-sack performance against the Cardinals.
Among all of talent and skill displayed by the Washington Redskins' defense in Week 15's victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Anthony Lanier II emerged as the biggest playmaker on the day.
Lanier logged the first multi-sack game of his career along with forcing a fumble, leading the team's defense to one of their strongest performances all season.
Despite his individual accomplishments, though, Lanier's focus was on the team and its collective success.
"It felt good," Lanier said of both his personal contributions and the team's win. "It felt like family surrounded me. God had his hands on us and made sure we came out with a victory today."
The defensive lineman's strip sack on the third play of the game gave the Redskins an early lead and gave the defense an onset jolt of confidence. Lanier later followed up with a second sack on an Arizona third down, holding the Cardinals to their first of five field goals.
Lanier's two sacks in the first quarter pushed his number of sacks to five in as many games. They also contributed to the five total sacks of Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Coming up with another crucial play, Lanier batted down a pass in the red zone on a Cardinals third down, once again keeping the opponent out of the end zone. His second third down pass defensed halted the Cardinals offensive progress, and his third came on Arizona's final drive, helping to solidify the win in Washington.
Lanier's three passes defensed are the most by a Redskins defensive lineman in a decade, since Jason Taylor completed the feat in 2008, also against Arizona. Accomplishments like these, however, seem to be just the beginning for Lanier.
"Anthony Lanier showed up in a big way, early," said head coach Jay Gruden. "[He] made a sack-fumble, had another sack and batted a couple more balls. It was great to hear Anthony Lanier's name over the intercom a few times and see how far he has come along from a young rookie free agent. He is getting better and better. The sky is the limit for him."
The Alabama A&M product entered the league in 2016 as a college free agent for the Redskins, where he appeared in four games as a rookie. Lanier's second NFL season has brought more game day experiences along the defensive line, giving him an opportunity to impress.
Though Lanier's accomplishments against Arizona set him apart from the already effective defense, he insists that he could not have executed without them. From the defensive line's strategic size to the secondary's "flight marshals" mentality, he acknowledged that the unit's spirit is a key component to their success.
"It's the energy I get from my teammates and everybody being together out there on the field," Lanier explained. "You know, everybody is just rattled up and singing and dancing and making sure that the energy level is high and that we're coming out strong.
"We were all going extra hard because we were so disappointed," he added. "We came out here today and said we wanted a W. We're tired of losing, and we did it."
Lanier and his teammates felt the residual dissatisfaction and mounting pressure of recent losses. A fourth quarter fault against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 –where the Redskins lost hold of a 15-point lead in the final minutes before losing in overtime– fueled the team's motivation. Back-to-back losses against the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 and 14, respectively, also added to their drive. This week's contest was an opportunity for redemption, and the Redskins did not disappoint.
"Today we came together and we overcame the odds of everybody thinking we were out of it," Lanier said. "We wanted to come out here and play, so everybody came together and rose to the occasion."
After yielding at least 30 points to opponent offenses in the past two games, the defense did not allow a single Cardinals touchdown. Though they constitute large part of Sunday's success, the defense is still developing.
"Everybody's learning a lot more," Lanier said. "You know, we're getting into the playbook very hard and coaches are making us understand what's going on.
"Coach [Jay] Gruden and Coach [Jim] Tomsula had put a lot of emphasis on watching quarterbacks in the way they throw the ball and making sure that we put our hands up, because if you look at our defensive line, it is a pretty tall defensive line." Lanier continued. "We all have long arms, so it makes passing harder."
The defensive line mobilizes with each player standing at 6-foot-2 or taller, and Lanier is the lightest at 286 pounds; the rest of the linemen weigh more than 300 pounds each. Considering coaching advice, studying team plays, and utilizing size has forged progress for not only the unit as a whole, but for Lanier as an individual, too.
Gruden appreciates the defensive lineman's attentiveness and effort, as well as his recent rise to heightened expectations.
"A guy like Lanier is a perfect guy to have on your team as a developmental-type of player," Gruden said. "He's got the size. He's got the length. He just doesn't have a lot of experience playing three-technique, five-technique, whatever it is. Teach him the defense, let him get in the weight room and develop.
"Unfortunately, or fortunately for Anthony, he's had to play a lot more than we anticipated because of injuries. He's taken advantage of them. Some growing pains here and there, but you see the talent, you see what we love. Coach [Jim] Tomsula's done a great job with him and he's got a great future."
Lanier, too, is looking ahead, though once again with a team mentality rather than an individual one. He and the rest of the defense know that an essential element of their individual achievements is succeeding together.
"[We want to] make forward progress and no more backtracking," Lanier said. "We're trying to grow and grow as a whole. We played great, but we can get better. God blessed us [against the Cardinals]. We came out there and made a couple good plays and that's it. Got the W, now on to next week."