ASHBURN, Va. -- Their first two games were atrocious, putting the Washington Redskins' defense in a position where it could go only one way: up.
Statistically, it has done just that in its past two games, which is why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is optimistic coming out of the bye. You can attribute part of that improvement to Oakland needing to start backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who has since been released, two weeks ago.
But Haslett points to other factors.
“We did much better in the run, we created turnovers, we did a better job rushing the passer,” Haslett said. “We got better and better as we played, and as we get into what we do. We improved [dramatically] the last couple weeks.”
The numbers are much better from their past two games, against Detroit and Oakland, than the first two, against Philadelphia and Green Bay. After two weeks, the Redskins were last in yards allowed at 511.5 and were 22nd on third downs (44 percent). They also were last in yards per carry at 5.51.
In weeks 3 and 4 combined, they were 18th overall in total yards (369.5) and yards per play (5.64), and were 11th on third downs (30.0).
For the season, they’re still last in total yards (440.5) and 31st in yards per play (6.34), but 11th on third downs (36.4). The win against Oakland helped lower the total yards per game by 44 yards.
“We’re doing a much better job rushing the quarterback all the way around, even the back end when we blitz,” Haslett said. “That’s one area we’re doing well with, even from the first game. We’ve done a good job the last couple week stopping the run. ... The first game [against Philadelphia] we kind of got stuck in a situation where we weren't sure what we were going to get. I'll take the blame for that first game. We've gotten better."
The improvement on third down has been a major help. Since allowing a touchdown pass against Detroit early in the second quarter, the Redskins have held on 20 of the past 25 third downs. One problem against Oakland: The Raiders still managed 17 third-down opportunities, nine of which were for third-and-5 or less. If the Raiders had a better passing game that day, it might have gone different. But against the Lions, with quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, they stopped the last eight third-down attempts -- stopping the run made a difference here as four of those situations called for nine yards or more.
“We’ve gotten better at making them one-dimensional,” Haslett said, “and getting in situations where we can rush the quarterback. Stopping the run is No. 1.”
Nose tackle Barry Cofield said, "We're going to try to make them one-dimensional. But if the one dimension [is] they can throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns, it's not ideal."
Some teams, such as Dallas, don’t mind being one-dimensional. The Cowboys were just that in the Redskins’ 38-31 win against them last Thanksgiving. Quarterback Tony Romo threw for 441 yards on 62 attempts (his yards per attempt of 7.1 was below his season average of 7.6). They ran only 11 times for 35 yards, a result of falling behind by 25 points.
The Redskins intercepted Romo twice in that game.
“Did they win the game? That’s the most important thing,” Haslett said. “I don’t care if you throw 70 times. But if someone’s running the ball and you don’t have an answer for it, it’s a long day. If they’re doing both, it’s a long day. At least in the passing game we got turnovers. That’s the big thing.”