Washington's defensive line established the pass rush early on their 27-20 Week 6 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, setting the tone for a game in which they kept the opposition flustered.
The Redskins' defensive line disrupted the Eagles' game plan by harassing rookie quarterback Carson Wentz from the very first snap on Sunday, paving the way for one of Washington's best defensive performances of the season in a 27-20 victory against Philadelphia at FedExField in Landover, Md.
The defensive unit gave up only six points on Sunday off two field goals while recording 11 quarterback hits and five sacks while surrendering just 239 total yards. The Eagles' other 14 points came on interception and kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan set the tone on the first play of the game with a sack – credited to Will Blackmon -- that brought Wentz down and lifted the crowd up. Kerrigan finished with two sacks and dominated the overmatched Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was starting at right tackle in place of the injured Lane Johnson.
Hitting Wentz early changed the complexion of the game. The pass rush got into Wentz's head, with the North Dakota State product having to replace his jersey after Kerrigan ripped it. The disruption of Wentz's timing forced the Eagles to adjust their game plan early on.
"As soon as Lane Johnson got injured and they said the rookie was gonna start, we already felt that no rookie is going to come in and really shut down Ryan Kerrigan," Redskins defensive end Chris Baker said. "Ryan came out from the first snap and got after him and kind of messed up their game plan. They had to keep extra people in to try and slow him down."
The Redskins came into the game cognizant of running back Darren Sproles' shifty skill set, but Kerrigan's dominance kept the Eagles running backs in the backfield to block. Sproles finished the game with just five touches for 24 total yards.
Buoying the Redskins defensive line's play was an unusually long break during the second and third quarters. Thanks to the offense stringing together long scoring drives coupled with consecutive interception and kickoff return touchdowns by the Eagles, the Redskins defense played one snap -- an Eagles kneel down to end the half -- between 13:19 minutes left in the second quarter and 8:40 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The one-hour and 16-minute long break in real time kept the Redskins defense fresh and gassed the Eagles defense.
"That turnover and the return for the touchdown was actually a blessing in disguise because it kept their defense on the field and they [were] tired for the rest of the game," Baker said. "We were able to go out there and execute on defense, get into Wentz's head and knock him down a couple of times and give him a couple pair of eyes in the back of his head, so we did a good job."
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' defense and special teams in their 2016 Week 6 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles Oct. 16, 2016, at FedExField.
After experiencing games where the Redskins' defensive line was tired in crunch time, it was literally refreshing for the defense to be on the other side of a game with a large time of possession disparity.
The key to being fresh at the end of games to seal victories is, "just getting off the field," linebacker Preston Smith said.
"Three and outs, getting off the field early, not having long drives; making good plays that get us off the field," Smith said. "We've been in positions a lot of times I felt we've just got to finish."
With the Eagles down a touchdown in the fourth quarter and facing a 3rd-and-15 on the Philadelphia 49-yard line on the first play after the two-minute warning, Smith and fellow linebacker Trent Murphy sacked Wentz, allowing the Redskins offense to finish the game. Smith raucously celebrated his first sack of the season, which the second-year Mississippi State product had been waiting for after leading all rookies in sacks in 2015.
"Yeah, I had to unleash the beast," Smith said with a smile. "He was caged and he was ready to come out. I've been trying to unleash him every week. That's what that was, that celebration was getting the monkey off my back. That's what it was...I didn't care when it came, or how it came, I'm just happy that it happened."
The defensive line had been criticized earlier in the season for their performance, but after their performance against the Eagles, Baker feels that the line is starting to become the disruptive unit they envisioned in the preseason.
"We listen, we hear, we see [the criticism]," Baker said. "But our goal is just to go out there, I mean they wasn't saying nothing that wasn't actually happening on film, but you just hate to hear it as a defensive line... We just continue to find ways to win and continue to get better and better and really not give up the run. When we really become a dominant front and we really cancel the run and be able to get after the passer, we're gonna be a dangerous defense."