Washington Redskins defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis sacks New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)
Sports Columnist

The driving force behind the glory days of the Redskins wasn’t great quarterbacks, the Fun Bunch receivers or a wild man of a running back nicknamed Riggo. Oh, they were important pieces, but it was the linemen who were the biggest reason for their success. The Redskins have finally gone back to their old-school formula and once again lead the NFC East.

[Redskins are on track to win the NFC East]

After Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, the lines were neglected for a decade because the owner liked to draft marquee skill-position players. Finally, Washington chose left tackle Trent Williams fourth overall in 2010 and guard Brandon Scherff fifth overall in 2015, and both became Pro Bowlers. Along with 2014 third-round right tackle Morgan Moses, they help form the team’s best offensive line since the Hogs led the Redskins to three Super Bowl title seasons from 1982 to 1991.

Now Washington is being rewarded for spending its last two first-rounders on defensive end Jonathan Allen and defensive tackle Daron Payne. The “Alabama Wall” and defensive end Matt Ioannidis have played like the famed 1980s trio of Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Dave Butz.


Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathan Allen, left, tackles Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Throw in a dominant running back in Adrian Peterson — who reminds fans of John Riggins in his second act as a 30-something back — and it feels a little like the good old days.

It’s no coincidence that Washington is 5-2 after investing in linemen and lucking out by signing Peterson in August after second-round rookie Derrius Guice suffered a season-ending injury. Guice looked special, and give the Redskins credit for taking a chance on Peterson this late in his career.

This is how winning is done — by pounding the rock and succeeding in the trenches.

Even pass-first coach Jay Gruden is suddenly shifting his offense as his new quarterback Alex Smith struggles. Washington has 210 running plays versus 228 passes, the narrowest margin of Gruden’s five-year tenure.

The defensive renaissance is particularly impressive. The Redskins have shut down three of the NFL’s top running backs during their three-game winning streak, holding each to fewer than 40 yards on the ground. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, second in the NFL in rushing, had 33 yards on 15 carries; the Giants’ Saquon Barkley had 38 yards on 13 carries; and Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey had 20 yards on eight carries.

Ioannidis is even playing Mann’s old role of racking up sacks while opponents focus on supposedly more dangerous pass-rushers. Teams worried more about Manley — and deservedly so given he’s the Redskins’ career sack leader with 91 (plus six more as a rookie before the NFL started keeping records). But the often overlooked Mann is second with 82. Ioannidis leads the 2018 Redskins with 5½ sacks.

Maybe Washington will get forced or tempted into a passing shootout Sunday against Atlanta. But as long as their lines dominate this season, so will the Redskins.

Read more from Rick Snider:

The Redskins may have picked the wrong quarterback with Alex Smith. They need to deal with that choice.

After the Redskins’ latest big-game blunder, Gruden’s job is on the line

Is the Redskins defense for real? It’s time to find out.