Two of the Redskins' young defensive backs that have been making early impacts this season both recorded first half interceptions in Washington's Week 3 victory.
In a game that was paced by the Redskins' defense, second-year cornerback Kendall Fuller and rookie safety Montae Nicholson were at the forefront of attention, each grabbing their first career interceptions.
Nicholson, playing in just his third professional game and making his first start with the Redskins, wasted no time in making his mark on the primetime affair.
On Derek Carr's first pass attempt of the night, he aired out a deep ball to speedster Amari Cooper, who seemingly had his man beat. Almost out of nowhere, Nicholson flew into sight, out-jumped Cooper and tumbles to the ground with the ball. The rookie's pick set the tone in what was a "statement" game from the Redskins defense.
"Watching film – D.J. [Swearinger] and the [defensive backs] as a whole have been telling me to read his eyes when I am back there in half and that is what I was doing," Nicholson said after the game. "I can't believe he actually threw it, but when he threw it, it was just a ball in the air, it has got to be ours, that's what we preach and I just kind of went up there and grabbed it."
Fuller's interception came in the second quarter, with the Redskins in front 7-0. Carr was looking for wide receiver Seth Roberts on a key 3rd-and-1 play, but did not anticipate Fuller jumping the route and hauling down the interception.
After the game, Fuller attributed his pick to the film study he did on Carr during the week. The game film he watched on Carr, Fuller said, helped him figure out when he tends to throw to a receiver's back shoulder, which he attempted to do on the interception, as well as his general timing on routes.
The big nights from young players like Fuller and Nicholson are especially important considering the overall struggles of the defensive backfield last year. The Redskins held the Raiders to just 96 passing yards on the night and forced two interceptions.
Nicholson and Swearinger, who both made their presences felt on Sunday night, have already found some budding chemistry.
"He's been playing great. As a rookie to come in and play as well as he's doing, I tip my hat to him," Swearinger said of his fellow safety. "With what we got going, I think we can be one of the great tandems in this league for a good while."
The Redskins secondary is a mixed bag as it stands right now. It features veterans like Swearinger and Josh Norman, while also sporting an essence of youth with guys like Nicholson and Fuller. Regardless of age, the secondary, which Swearinger dubs 'The Flight Marshals,' got contributions from essentially every member of the unit on Sunday night.
"We prepared. We prepared a lot the whole week," Fuller said after the game. "Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, you know guys like J-No [Josh Norman], D.J. pushing us to be great. That is what we have got to do week in and week out."