Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne to see majority of playing time moving forward
ASHBURN To understand the shift in philosophy that happened Sunday regarding the Redskins’ defensive line, all one has to do is look at the snap counts from the team’s 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne played 65 and 64 defensive snaps, respectively good for more than 90 percent of the defense’s 69 plays. Remember last year’s reliance of rotating defensive linemen in and out? Throw that out the window now.
Coach Jay Gruden and his defensive staff trusted Allen and Payne to be good enough to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. Their faith was rewarded with production: Allen had two of Redskins’ four sacks and Payne had one.
Throughout the first two weeks, the pair of first rounders played no more than 70 percent of the snaps in each game. But the Redskins adjusted and it appears the change is here to stay.
“We’re not down on anybody else, but I think those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field,” Gruden said. “We have some other guys that can play without a doubt, but those two guys are first rounders and very talented, so the more they play the better they get.
“We’ll still work in a rotation from time to time, but for the most part, those two guys will be out there when they are healthy.”
The Redskins, of course, invested a significant amount of resources in Allen and Payne selecting the Alabama products 17th and 13th overall in the last two drafts. The two were brought in because of their much-needed ability to stop the run and help generate a pass rush.
Gruden, though, said the Redskins spent much of the first two games letting Payne and Allen get their feet wet, limiting their snaps. But at a certain point, talent wins out and the Redskins needed their best players on the field to beat Rodgers.
Sustaining pressure has always been critical in beating Rodgers, and it became even more important in Sunday’s matchup when the quarterback was playing with an injured knee.
Against Green Bay, the Redskins’ sacks often came from up the middle, with Payne and Allen forcefully making their way past guards.
“You need that,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “You need that against a quarterback like Rodgers because you can’t load the box. You can’t load the box or he’s going to pick you apart.”
In terms of raw numbers, the Redskins defense has gotten off to a great start. They’ve allowed the second-fewest yards per game (278) and the fifth-fewest passing yards (187). They have recorded five takeaways, putting them in the upper half of the league.
Gruden even trusted the defense to hold the lead in the second half of the Packers game going more conservative on offense, counting on the defense to make stops. They held the Packers to just seven points in the half, and safety Montae Nicholson said the coaching staff’s approach helped build confidence for the unit.
Nicholson said the defense carries a chip on their shoulder because of skeptics consistently noting how young the group is.
That includes the defensive line, whose oldest starter, Matt Ioannidis, is just 24 years old. Ziggy Hood, a reserve lineman who did not take a snap in Week 3, is the team’s oldest defender at 31.
The Redskins, however, are more than fine with the youth movement.
Payne is 21 years old, while Allen is 23.
“We didn’t draft (Payne) in the first round to sit by me,” Gruden said.“We wanted him to play as much as possible and I was impressed with the way that he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end of the game. They were flying to the football. They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game.
“Those two guys together, the vision that we had when we drafted them getting Jonathan and Daron together came to fruition (against the Packers).”