The Redskins' first-team defense played together until halfway through the second quarter against the Bills, looking sturdy throughout all levels.
Perhaps a preview for what's to come this season and an opportunity to solidify the remaining question marks among specific position groups for an extended period of drives, the Redskins' full first-team defense received a quarter and a half of work in the team's third preseason game against the Bills on Friday night.
The popularly termed dress-rehearsal began strongly, and throughout the defense's first couple of opportunities, linebacker Preston Smith, defensive end Ziggy Hood and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman showed off their playmaking ability against a Bills offense that lacked a few of its regulars.
Without a healthy Chris Baker, Hood, Kedric Golston and Kendall Reyes manned the defensive line, while Mason Foster paired up Will Compton at inside linebacker. The secondary remained consistent with the team's depth chart – David Bruton Jr. and DeAngelo Hall at safety with Norman and Breeland at corner – while Dashaun Phillips and Su'a Cravens each played some snaps during the team's nickel packages.
In total, the first team held Buffalo to just six points and five first downs, none of which came on third down.
Without running back LeSean McCoy in the lineup, the Bills fed Reggie Bush for two runs to start the first quarter that earned them a first down, but the Redskins quickly responded. With pressure from Kedric Golston and Ryan Kerrigan, defensive end Ziggy Hood gobbled up quarterback Tyrod Taylor for a sack. The next play, Preston Smith rushed around the edge and hit Taylor from his blind side, forcing an incompletion. Taylor felt more pressure on third down and managed a 2-yard pass to Jonathan Williams before he was quickly swarmed by defenders.
Kerrigan left the game once the drive finished with a groin injury.
After a Kirk Cousins interception gave the Bills the ball at the Washington 31-yard line, the defense remained sturdy. Bush opened the drive with another 7-yard rush and quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed a pass for nine yards to tight end Jim Dray.
Then the secondary stepped up. Breeland played tight coverage on wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who couldn't find room to operate on a ball thrown out of bounds in the corner of the end zone. After scrambling up the middle for five yards, Taylor went back to the end zone on third down. This time it was Norman playing tight coverage, breaking up a pass over the middle and promptly, exclamatorily reacting to the incompletion. Kicker Dan Carpenter hit a 28-yard field goal to finish the stalled drive.
Even more efficient on their third drive, the defense took advantage of quarterback E.J. Manuel, who entered the game for Taylor. After a short gain from Williams, Smith burst through the line to drop Williams in the backfield on the next play. Manuel, facing tight coverage, slightly underthrew his pass to wide receiver Greg Little, who had the ball quickly punched to the ground by Norman, forcing a three-and-out and a punt.
Their fourth trip out, the Bills took advantage of some holes – Manuel led with a 21-yard pass, Dan Herron found space for 12 yards up the middle and DeAngelo Hall committed an unnecessary roughness penalty – but the unit held its ground. Smith forced another backwards play on Williams, as did linebacker Will Compton throughout the drive. The Redskins stopped the Bills on third down and Carpenter came through again from 52 yards away to put the Bills ahead 6-0.
The final drive with the complete starting defense forced another three-and-out. Breeland broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Dezmin Lewis after the ball bounced off the receiver's arm. Hood made another play in the backfield, dropping Williams on a run outside and Josh Norman stayed stride for stride with Little down the sideline on the next play, preventing an overthrown deep ball from having a chance to be completed.