One of the most improved units on the Redskins, the defensive line lost a crucial part of its rotation with Jonathan Allen's recent injury. They'll need to fill the void against the first-place Eagles.
Arguably the biggest upgrade to the Redskins defense this season has been the defensive line. The unit underwent a reboot this past offseason, bringing in two free agent veterans in Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain and making its biggest splash in the draft, selecting Jonathan Allen in the first round. The emergence of Matt Ioannidis in his second year has helped transform the pass rush and produced a ripple effect for the rest of the defense.
The depth and talent of the line will be tested this Monday night in a primetime matchup with the Eagles, however, now that Allen will be gone for at least eight weeks of the season. The Redskins placed him on Injured Reserve with a Lisfranc injury that he suffered against the 49ers last Sunday and will have to lean on others to fill the void.
"We miss a guy that's willing to communicate with you and willing to get better, an [unselfish] guy and able to take coaching and get better and understand his role and job out there, especially when it comes to the field and stuff like that," defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said.
The Redskins feared that Allen could be lost for the entire season because injuries to the Lisfranc can be extremely difficult to rehab, especially for a 288-pound lineman. He could be eligible to return Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals.
"We got better news after the surgery that it wouldn't be as lengthy as some of these surgeries typically are. So that's good news, but we still have to rehab it," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He is a big man and sometimes bigger guys take a little bit longer but we will wait and see. We will just play it by ear and hopefully we see him again, but it is up to the rehab."
The Redskins will likely lean on second-year defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II, who has been on the 53-man roster for the entire season but has been inactive for all five games. He played in four games last season year before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year, and he will have a daunting task facing an Eagles team that ranks in the Top-10 in nearly every offensive category (most notably, they lead the league in third down conversions).
"Very excited," Lanier said of his opportunity. "You know, keeping the pressure on [Wentz] is going to be big for us, so getting everybody together and let's go do this."
"It's bad that we had to lose [Allen], but we have got a lot of guys on the roster that are going to fill that spot," defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "It is not going to fill it totally like Allen would, but Anthony has been doing a pretty good job. We are going to mix in and out different guys to see what those guys have. But Lanier has been improving each and every week and we are looking forward to him getting on the field and playing the game."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 7 game against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
Beside each other, Ioannidis and Allen have been sparkplugs for the pass rush, creating an interior push that forced quarterbacks to either flee the pocket or get swarmed by outside linebackers. That's also meant that the team has been able to rely on less blitzing, letting the secondary stay in coverage and linebackers keeping an eye on running backs and tight ends. The Redskins have 15 sacks on the season, and they rank 11th in the league with a 7.9 adjusted sack rate percentage, which factors in sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and opponents, according to Football Outsiders.
Allen was a big factor in those numbers, creating pushes and stunts that freed up his teammates to attack the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen leads all defensive tackles with a 13.1 pass rush productivity mark for players with at least 30 pass rushes. He's also reached 13 quarterback pressures, the most of any rookie defensive tackle, on just 80 snaps.
Gruden remains confident in his potential replacements, including A.J. Francis, who the team recently signed to the active roster after he was cut before the regular season.
"Lanier is a different animal. He's a good pass rusher, still young," Gruden said. "Francis provides us some more depth as far as the interior, as far as nose guard is concerned. I don't know which combination we will use come Monday, but it is good to get A.J. back here. We liked him a lot. We let him go numbers-wise and then we are fortunate that he was on the streets so [we] brought him back."
The Redskins, underneath defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, have rotated their defensive line enough this season to the point that everyone has remained fresh throughout the course of games. This should continue to help them in chasing down Wentz on Monday night, taking more strides as a unit.
"This room is full with a bunch of guys [that aren't] selfish, that's willing to put away egos aside, play different positions that they normally don't play, whether that's me playing nose, Terrell [McClain] playing that four-technique and big Stacy [McGee] playing the four-technique and stuff like that," Hood said. "So, we got guys doing that are willing to fight for the guy next to him. You want to push them to allow them to be better. Then, you've got a bunch of guys that are willing to do anything to win."