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Top 5 defensive plays from 2022 so far

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While the Washington Commanders as a whole have experienced a turnaround from the start of the 2022 season, the defense has certainly been the star of that transformation. 

Following the heartbreaking loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Commanders possessed a middling defense at best. They were 17th in yards allowed, 25th in points allowed, 19th in passing defense and 14th in rushing defense.  

Now, as the Commanders get through the bye week and prepare for a critical matchup against the New York Giants, they are sixth in yards allowed, eighth in passing defense, eighth in rushing defense, tied for ninth in points allowed and fourth in third-down defense. Because of that, Washington has been able to win six of its last eight games and is set for a playoff push. 

Let's look back at some of the plays that led to Washington having one of the best defenses in the league. 

Montez Sweat brings down Jalen Hurts with a critical third-down sack. 

Washington was on the precipice of securing the biggest win of the season up to that point. 

The Commanders had extended their lead on the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles from two to five points with a 55-yard field goal from Joey Slye, but things were far from over. The Eagles and their top five offense, led by Jalen Hurts, had 3:21 and all three timeouts to get in the end zone to keep their winning streak alive. 

The Commanders' pass-rush made sure that did not happen. Hurts was surrounded by burgundy helmets and white jerseys on third-and-8, and as he tried to step up in the pocket, Montez Sweat wrapped him up and took him down, forcing the Eagles to punt the ball back into Washington's control. 

It might not seem as pivotal as some of the other plays on this list, but considering how much time was left for the Eagles to get down the field and score, it was important to stifle that offense before it started gaining momentum. And with that possession, Washington took more time off the clock and secured its victory.

Benjamin St-Juste's forced fumble wipes away an explosive play from the Eagles.

As important as Sweat's sack on Hurts was, it was not the most impressive defensive moment of the matchup. That distinction goes to Benjamin St-Juste, who likely saved the game with his refusal to give up on a play.

The explosive play, which Washington had done well to avoid all night against the Eagles, finally happened in the fourth quarter. Hurts aired out a pass to Quez Watkins, who made the reception for a 52-yard gain. He was on his way to getting more, too, had St-Juste not popped the ball out of his grasp. It was picked up by Darrick Forrest, who returned it 12 yards before stepping out of bounds at the 27-yard line.

Washington did little with the extra possession. The offense punted the ball back to the Eagles after a three-and-out. But the turnover was still massive. Not only did it keep Washington in control of the game, but it also allowed the offense to take more than two minutes off the clock.

Had St-Juste given up on the play, the Eagles could have scored, and who know what could have happened after that?

Kendall Fuller grabs his first-career pick six.

Washington was expected to take care of business against the Houston Texans, and it did not take long for the defense to set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

After a pass to Jordan Akins was stuffed for no gain, Texans quarterback Davis Mills looked to his right and tried to get the ball to Brandin Cooks, the Texans' best option at receiver. It was quickly read by Kendall Fuller, who broke on the pass and returned it 37 yards for the touchdown.

The interception was Fuller's first since Week 6 of the 2021 season against the Kansas City Chiefs, and as unlikely as it sounds, it was the first touchdown of Fuller's career. Washington went on to have an exceptional defensive performance against the Texans, but it was the interception that started it all.

Daron Payne's tipped pass leads to Fuller's game-saving interception against Atlanta.

Washington was four yards away from the outlook on its season looking drastically different.

The team was clinging to a six-point lead against the Atlanta Falcons, but things became shakier with each passing minute. The Falcons, who started their final drive of the game at their own 16-yard line, had moved all the way to the Commanders' 2 before a tackle for loss from Sweat backed them up.

Rather than trust their running game, which had rushed for 167 yards, the Falcons put the ball in the hands of Marcus Mariota to win the game. Mariota smartly targeted Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone, but Daron Payne, who has a knack for deflecting passes, batted the ball in the air, allowing Fuller to secure the turnover and effectively end the game.

Had Atlanta gotten into the end zone, Washington would have been 6-6, and while making the playoffs would not have been impossible, it would have been more difficult.

The goal line stand against Chicago.

There is an argument that this play played a monumental role in turning around the Commanders' season.

The game was on the line against the Chicago Bears on fourth down inside the Commanders' 5-yard line. With the score 12-7, the Bears needed to get in the end zone, and they were inches away from doing so.

Justin Fields connected with Darnell Mooney near the right pylon, and for a moment, it looked like the wideout had just won the game. That was when St-Juste barreled into him, knocking the ball loose. Mooney still secured the pass, but his momentum carried him out of the end zone and out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

It was a turnover on downs, and from there, Washington let the clock run down and secured its first victory since Week 1. Thankfully, St-Juste was there to save the game, because had Chicago scored, the Commanders would have fallen to 1-5 and faced several questions for the rest of the season.

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