The Washington Redskins will be looking for their fourth straight win when they host the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField on Sunday, and defense is what has gotten the Redskins this far.
The Redskins (5-2) rank fifth in the league in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. None of their past three opponents has scored more than 17 points, and none of their past five foes has rushed for more than 100 yards.
“I’d have to say I’m impressed by a number of their guys, but I’m really impressed by the defensive tackles,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “They play really square and strong.”
Quinn cited Jonathan Allen (38 tackles, four sacks), Da’Ron Payne (41 tackles, three sacks) and Matt Ioannidis (21 tackles, 5.5 sacks).
And the Redskins added a piece to their pass defense this week when they acquired safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from the Green Bay Packers.
“It was an opportunity to get a great player,” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. “Ha Ha has proven the fact that he’s a good player, great player actually, over the course of his career and came available to us. The front office pulled the trigger and got him in here. Now it’s our job to get him acclimated to the defense and add him to the mix of a good safety group.”
Clinton-Dix insists he will be ready to play this weekend, and he will team with friend and workout partner D.J. Swearinger, a safety who has four interceptions this season.
“Two men who love this game, who play for their families, who play for their friends, who play for their coaches, who play for their teammates and it was all (competing against each other) this offseason and we had fun doing it,” Clinton-Dix said of his pairing with Swearinger. “When you’re competing with a guy that loves the game as much as you do, you can never get bored in this league.”
The Redskins face a stiff passing threat this week against the Falcons’ passing combination of quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.
Ryan leads the league in passing yardage per game, and he completed his final 18 pass attempts in Atlanta’s 23-20 victory over the New York Giants on Oct. 22 before the Falcons’ bye week. He has 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, and has thrown 205 consecutive passes since his last interception, which came in the second game against Carolina.
Jones is having a big year. He leads the league in receiving yards per game (116.0) on his 53 receptions, but, surprisingly, he has yet to record a touchdown catch. He had nine receptions for 104 yards against the Giants, and that came one week after he collected 10 receptions for 144 yards in a 34-29 victory over Tampa Bay.
Jones is likely to be lined up against Redskins cornerback Josh Norman most of the day.
With Devonta Freeman on injured reserve, the Falcons will rely on running back Tevin Coleman in the running game. He has not rushed for more than 51 yards in a game this season and had 50 rushing yards on 11 carries in the victory over the Giants.
It will be tough sledding against the Redskins, who rank second in the league in run defense, allowing just 80.1 yards per game.
The Redskins have the better run game, and it is led by 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, who is sixth in the league in rushing, averaging 83.9 yards per game and a respectable 4.6 yards per carry. He ran for 149 yards in last week’s 20-13 victory over the Giants, the same team that had lost to Atlanta the previous week.
The Falcons limited Giants running back Saquon Barkley to 43 yards on 14 carries, and hope to have similar success against Peterson.
“Going into the game I was very impressed by Barkley and I left feeling the same,” Quinn said. “I know exactly who Adrian Peterson is and playing against him and how tough he can be.”
Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has been less impressive. He ranks 29th in the league in passing yards per game, and has not thrown for more than 180 yards in any of the past three games. He has thrown just two interceptions, and none in the last three games, but he also has just eight touchdown passes.
The Redskins’ leading receiver is tight end Jordan Reed, but his 43.7 yards per game rank 82nd in the league. Reed had a season-high seven receptions against the Giants, although he totaled just 38 receiving yards.
“Certainly neither of us are content with where we are at, we have a long way to go,” Smith said.
Washington depends on its defense to keep the score down.
The Falcons (3-4) are hoping their recent history against Washington continues since Atlanta has beaten the Redskins five times in a row. However, their last meeting was three years ago, a 25-19 Falcons win on a 59-yard interception return in overtime.
It’s been 10 years since the Redskins started 5-2, and they hold a 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC East.