The Redskins' defense had its most impressive outing of the season in Baltimore, executing on third downs and holding strong until the very end to earn the team's third victory.
The Redskins' defense entered Sunday's matchup with the Ravens allowing opponents the highest third down conversion percentage in the league, a statistic magnified by its poor tackling against the Browns last week and owned by defensive coordinator Joe Barry a few days later, addressing his unit's shortcomings. If the Redskins were going to continue to earn victories during the rest of the season, they knew they needed to get opponents off the field at a much better rate.
Baltimore's first opportunity on offense -- a sharp, fluid touchdown drive that continued to exacerbate the Redskins' weaknesses on defense – spelled another long day of missed tackles and more shoulder shrugs. But once the first quarter came to a close, the defense showed its resiliency, reversing the script from their first four games and leading the team to a 16-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
That started on first and second down, where the Redskins managed to pressure quarterback Joe Flacco into rushed and off-balance throws throughout most of the day, which led to longer third down siatuations. Unlike previously, when the defense would allow big-yard gains to occur on these "money downs," Barry's group made sure to keep the ball, and receivers, in front of them, something that was easier once veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. exited the game at the end of the first quarter with an injury.
In total, the Ravens only converted just 3-of-15 third downs (20 percent), a drastic change from the Redskins' mark entering the game (57.4 percent), often forcing on the punt team, which wide receiver Jamison Crowder would take advantage of early with a touchdown return.
"When we're struggling on third down, it's a little bit of everybody. And when we're playing well on third down, it's definitely everybody," head coach Jay Gruden said. "The calls were excellent and everybody was doing their part. The pass rush was good, and it was making Joe [Flacco] uncomfortable. He had to check it down, and we were tackling better. We didn't miss many tackles today - maybe one big one. The coverage was good, and the pass rush was fine."
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' 2016 Week 5 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens Oct. 9, 2016, at M&T Bank Stadium.
And, even as the Redskins allowed drips of yardage during the Ravens' desperate final minute drive, they kept a bend don't break mentality that afforded them their most impressive red zone stop of the season to seal the victory.
"Joe B – he's a good coach. He's a hell of a coach," linebacker Will Compton said. "Sometimes we've just got to play better. Today I felt like everybody came out and played a hell of a game. Hats off to everybody. The offense was down at times. I felt like they were going a great job driving the ball, just couldn't for whatever reason get it rolling the end zone. We had a couple of third and shorts and stuff, but the special teams played a hell of a game today, so hats off to them too."
It came down to execution. After the first quarter, and before the final play of the third quarter, the defense only surrendered 40 yards of total offense. The Ravens' last three drives before the half ended in two punts and a turnover when safety Duke Ihenacho broke up a fake field goal pass play at the edge of the end zone.
"This week everybody was clicking on all cylinders," Compton added. "Guys competed at the ball and we got off on third down. But it was truly execution."
Following the intermission, the dominance continued. Five Ravens offensive drives totaled just 17 plays and all resulted in punts, a tribute to a defensive line that shook some of its early-season struggles and made its presence known.
"Coaches kind of challenged us during the week and we put it together on Wednesday and Thursday," defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "We felt good going into Friday's practice and we went out there and executed. We gave up some few big runs in the first half, but in the second half, we got back on our feet and gave it to them."
Washington saw a variety of contributors, helping ease a patchwork secondary into action. Along with three quarterback hits, linebacker Trent Murphy teamed up with linebacker Terence Garvin for a sack and flustered Joe Flacco in the pocket. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan picked up his 50th sack of his career on the last play before the half, while Hood collected his first sack in two years.
"It had been a long time coming. It felt great," Hood said of the sack. "Now it's time to build off it and get more and on the season."
For the third consecutive game, the defense prevented its opponent from scoring a touchdown in the second half, which was nearly broken when wide receiver Breshad Perriman couldn't keep both feet in bounds after catching a heave from Flacco just over cornerback Josh Norman (who fought through a wrist injury), which was originally ruled a touchdown.
After further review, Perriman only had one foot in bounds, and the defense held strong for the remaining three plays, relying on a secondary that had lost both of its starting safeties in consecutive weeks, along with two of its starting three cornerbacks.
"We truly just challenge one another, that's the biggest thing," safety Will Blackmon said. "We challenge each other, we call each other out when something's not right and I think the trust is definitely there now. We can only improve, that's the biggest thing. We're happy about the win and we always look to improve and get better. That's the one thing I do credit this group, we constantly try to get better."