“We’re not a great pass defense,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said then. “I understand that, numbers-wise.”
But whatever the circumstances, whatever the reasons, Washington’s secondary play has picked up since that dismal day in the Meadowlands — a significant reason why the Redskins have won seven straight and will host Seattle in an NFC playoff game Sunday. Haslett and his assistants have played almost the entire season without their projected starting safeties — Tanard Jackson, who was suspended for the year for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and Brandon Meriweather, who missed 15 games with injuries. They have, at various points, watched Hall and Wilson get torched for big plays.
And yet with the playoffs here, that play from Cruz seems long ago. “We don’t think about it now,” Williams said. “And we put it behind us then.”
The secondary is rejuvenated. “They’re playing their best football down the stretch,” veteran inside linebacker London Fletcher said.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Redskins allowed Dallas 423 yards passing, the most they gave up all year, in a game when the Cowboys were playing catch-up and were forced to throw. When Dallas arrived for the rematch last Sunday, a game that decided the division title, Dallas passed for just 196 yards.
That completed a late-season surge for the secondary. It was the sixth time in the last nine games that unit has allowed fewer than 235 yards passing. Up to Thanksgiving, they averaged 301.4 yards passing allowed. In the five games since, that average has dropped more than 60 yards, to 239.2.
“I think they’re playing better as a unit,” Haslett said. “I think last week DeAngelo played his best game. Josh has really stepped up and played well. The safeties, all four of them, have stepped up and done a good job in the situations we’re putting them in.”
To be sure, the Redskins’ overall numbers are still ugly. Only two teams, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, gave up more yards passing this season. Only four teams have given up more pass plays of 40 yards or more. Only five teams have given up more pass plays of 20 yards or more.