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Redskins' defense not half bad

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Unit has been much better after halftime

ASHBURN -- The trend started three games ago, adding momentum for the Redskins' winning streak. They give up points in the first half. They shut teams down in the second.

It's not quite that simple. But that is what has happened.

In the first half of the past three games, the Redskins have allowed a combined 48 points. In the second half, they have allowed a combined 17. In the first half of the past three games, opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 106.8. In the second half of the past three games, that number plummets to 57.9.

There are more numbers. Again, they're all good. The Redskins have recorded five sacks during this stretch, all in the second half. They have forced five turnovers, all in the second half. And, finally, of the 1,040 ?yards allowed the past three games, 634 have come in the first half.

"It's just making plays," Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said. "We're making plays and not giving up plays."

This past week vs. Cleveland, they weren't just limited to a strong second half in which they intercepted two passes. The Browns did hit them with a 69-yard touchdown pass, continuing a trend of big plays allowed. But the Redskins' forced five punts in the first half (allowing one 75-yard touchdown drive and another for 6 yards).

"You look at the first half of our season when we didn't win as many games," Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. "We would start fast on defense and kind of give games away in the second half."

They blew leads against St. Louis and Tampa Bay, though they still beat the Buccaneers. They allowed New Orleans back into the game in the opener with a poor fourth quarter. Of course, the same thing happened in Dallas four weeks ago, when the Cowboys scored 28 second-half points.

None of the quarterbacks they have faced in the past three weeks is having a Pro Bowl season. The Giants' Eli Manning has an 84.0 passer rating; he missed two open receivers deep vs. the Redskins. Baltimore's Joe Flacco (86.2) threw three touchdown passes but turned it over twice in the second half and showed little pocket awareness. And Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (72.4) threw two second-half interceptions thanks to bad throws and decisions.

The Redskins' defense still ranks 29th overall (23rd in points allowed). So it's not a shutdown unit.

But the Redskins' defense has done its job in must-win games. Against the Browns, for example, the Redskins fooled them with various looks up front, twice getting defenders free with three-man rushes because linemen were waiting for different players to rush.

And vs. Baltimore, they forced the Ravens into four situations of third-and-6 or more (out of seven third downs). They failed to convert any of the four.

"We could get after the passer a little bit and settle into a zone and not allow a lot of underneath throws," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

Against New York, they used more five-man rushes late in the game.

"We'll get a feel as the game goes on," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "If we feel that we can rush a team with a three or four, we will. If not, we'll go four, five, six, seven, eight, nine if we have to."

The Redskins need it to continue. This week might not yield the same test, with Washington facing a rookie quarterback in Philadelphia's Nick Foles who helped generate six points against it five games ago. But next week the challenge is tougher with Dallas' Tony Romo.

"We understand that we want to hold teams to very minimum yardage," Golston said. "But, hey, just don't let them score and put our team in position to win football games."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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