*After a couple of player-held meetings earlier in the week, the Redskins defense broke out in major fashion Sunday night against the Raiders with an historical performance in front of a national audience. *
The disrespect festered and lay heavy on the defense's minds throughout the week. Safety D.J. Swearinger saw it as an opportunity. He called a meeting on Tuesday to challenge everyone for the practice week ahead, then held another Thursday, at cornerback Josh Norman's house, to hammer home the message.
Swearinger called these gatherings "get right" meetings, a sobriquet meant to take the noise from the week – an opponent predicting his offensive numbers and analysts betting against them – and channel it into a dominating performance, to show a national audience why it was so wrong to make assumptions without accounting for this new-look unit.
From the opening drive, the enhanced focus was on full display and the Redskins defense, marked by a physical abandon and determination unseen in years past, turned an otherwise potent Raiders offensive attack into an insecure and feeble one. Washington's 27-10 victory signified many things, but none were more noticeable than what the defense achieved, what it felt it needed to prove under the lights Sunday night.
"We wanted to change the culture around from the defense from last year to this year. I think we made a statement to the world today," Swearinger said. "We got to keep building. It's only one game, but a great game, a hell of a game by our defense, by our team to get the team win and we can keep building on this."
The unquestionable vocal leader of the defense, Swearinger heard his message reverberate on the first pass play, when rookie Montae Nicholson made an acrobatic interception, the first of his career, against quarterback Derek Carr. The momentum only enhanced from there. The defense applied consistent pressure all night without much reinforcement, sacking Carr four times and hitting running back Marshawn Lynch early and often.
One of those hits on Lynch belonged to Swearinger, who stood by his locker after the game dressed in a Sean Taylor jersey (and donning a Redskins Mexican straw hat), calling the violent tackle an ode to his legacy.
"I told the boys all week, I said 'y'all going to love it when I catch 24 [Lynch],'" Swearinger said. "I was tired of hearing 'Beast Mode,' the dancing, all of that. I said I'm going to catch him, I will catch him this game and I'm so happy I got to catch him. I played him my rookie year and I never got to tackle him my rookie year, he retired. I tip my hat to Beast Mode, I played running back, he was my favorite running back growing up. But, when I got to this level and I wanted to play against him, it was more of a enemy. So, I was happy I got a lick on him today."
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' defense in their 2017 Week 3 matchup against the Oakland Raiders Sept. 24, 2017, at FedExField.
It wasn't just Swearinger laying out the hits. Nicholson punished wide receiver Michael Crabtree with a forceful collision to the chest late in the game after the receiver couldn't catch a deep pass in mid-air. Linebacker Zach Brown sped over and flattened anyone in his way, slamming them to the ground, and the defensive line, led by outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, shed blocks with ease.
In total, the Redskins limited the Raiders to 128 total yards, the lowest total during head coach Jay Gruden's tenure in Washington and the fewest yards allowed by the Redskins since Oct. 12, 1992, against Denver. They also held the Raiders 0-for-11 on third downs, the first time the Redskins have held an opponent without a third down conversion in 10 years.
"Guys were hungry," Smith said. "Guys were trying to hunt, that's what our coach says, 'Go out there and hunt.' We got to get to the quarterback with four guys, we shouldn't have to blitz, and there wasn't many blitzes called – I don't think there was any called – and we got [inaudible] with our four guys up front."
The defense forced two more turnovers in the game – cornerback Kendall Fuller got his first career interception against Carr, who threw for just 118 yards, and then forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that linebacker Martrell Spaight scooped before running out of bounds – and it was clear each unit impacted the next.
Plastering receivers for four quarters, cornerback Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland worked in tandem to limit the Raiders' biggest threats -- Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper -- to just two total receptions for 13 yards. For Norman it was poetic justice, and the cornerback didn't mince his words about their performances.
"I mean first and foremost, you don't come in here and say what you are going to put up on somebody," Norman said. "Two-hundred yards? He didn't even catch two balls. Oh, he only caught one. So please whatever you do, do not run your mouth to your wide receiver and respect to show up on Sundays. Because I am telling you, we are here and we are waiting. Don't come out here and telling me what you're going to do. Show me. You'll have to run through me to get that. And we aint letting that happen. So whatever that young cat said, cool, you're going to take it back."
The complete game was enough for Gruden to say "it was as good a defensive performance that I've seen in a long time by anybody." Under a new defensive coordinator and with personnel that continues to show its speed, intelligence and physicality, the Redskins defense made a statement it hopes will continue to grow in the weeks to come.
"We wanted to send a message to the world and we're not pushovers, we're not going to lay down for nobody, we are going to compete every time we're on the field," Swearinger said. "This defense is definitely going to be stingy every time we are on the field and we are going to keep it rolling. We got to keep it rolling, we got a big game Monday night next week and we can get better from this week. We'll watch it on Tuesday and get better and we'll try to be better on Monday."